The holidays are stressful at the best of times. Going through them during a separation could be downright unbearable. There’s probably no getting around the fact that the first holiday after you’ve separated isn’t going to be easy. Change is always difficult and there are going to be lots of changes coming your way. An important thing to come to terms with is that the holidays will be different. You’re not going to be able to spend them exactly the way you once did. You won’t be able to practice all of the same Christmas traditions you once did. But, different doesn’t have to mean awful. You might be someone facing a separation that you didn’t ask for and didn’t want. Maybe you’re feeling some relief in the changes that are coming, but you’re dealing with an ex who doesn’t share your outlook. Either way, being intentional about how to get through the holidays can help give you the best experience possible under stressful circumstances.
Here are some ideas that can help:
- Remind yourself that you’re doing this for your kids and focus on them. Celebrating Christmas might be the last thing you feel like doing during a separation, but your kids won’t feel that way. You can’t do it all, but motivate yourself to do your best by remembering that your kids are looking forward to Christmas as a special time.
- Make a plan ahead of time with your ex. Don’t wait until the last minute to figure out who’s buying what presents, or which celebrations you’ll each attend with the kids. Being on the same page early on will avoid misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations.
- Try to Preserve as many traditions as you can, or make some new ones. Traditions are very important to kids and will give them a sense of stability in this uncertain time. Make every effort to keep your family traditions alive even if you have to celebrate them in different ways. If it’s just not possible to keep some traditions going then get creative about making some new ones. Remember, this doesn’t have to be elaborate. Watching a favourite holiday movie or driving around to see Christmas lights in your neighborhood can become a much-loved tradition.
- Go easy on yourself. You’re already going through enough so cooking a 5 course meal or attending 6 holiday parties isn’t a great idea. Focus on the most important things and then take some short-cuts with the rest; turn Christmas dinner into a potluck this year, buy gift bags instead of late-night wrapping, do all of your shopping on-line, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Kids don’t need things to be perfect. They just want you there with them making memories.
- Be generous with your ex. This first holiday apart may set the tone for how you’ll co-parent through future special events. It’s worth it to practice patience, flexibility, and forgiveness as you move forward. Your ex-partner is probably having a tough time too and you can go easy on each other.
- Talk to your kids about Christmas in age appropriate ways. Don’t let your kids wonder what might be happening, or be surprised when one parent isn’t there Christmas morning. Discuss your plans for how you’ll celebrate this year. Listen, validate their sadness and worry, and assure them that they’ll still be having lots of fun over the holidays.
- Talk to family and ask them for loving support and help. Well meaning family can often ask probing questions, want to take sides, or say hurtful things about your ex in front of your kids. Talk to extended family before you see them at that holiday get-together. Let them know that you’re all going through a hard time and you’d appreciate only love and support.
- Don’t feel pressure to overspend on gifts. This is great advice for all of us, but separated or divorced parents often feel the need to go overboard on presents to make up for the tough time. Peaceful, enjoyable experiences spent with family will have much more value than any gifts you can buy.
- Don’t make Christmas about a new partner. If your kids are experiencing their first Christmas without both parents together it’s likely not going to be a great time to also introduce a new person into the mix. Make the holidays about your children and their needs.
What about Christmas Morning?
No one wants to celebrate Christmas morning alone. Consider, can you celebrate Christmas morning together? What would that look like? Is there a way to make that work? This isn’t possible for everyone, but many parents are able to put differences aside for this morning and focus on their kids’ experience. If the answer is no then consider how you can thoughtfully divide this special time while putting the needs of the children first. Can one parent have a special Christmas Eve time with the kids while the other has Christmas morning? Can one parent have Christmas morning but the kids go to the other parent in time for a nice brunch? Often by getting creative the chasm of Christmas morning can be breached in such a way that everyone can still have a good day.
After a separation you have the ability to move forward, and this includes in the way you celebrate holidays. Make every attempt to put things in place so that Christmas can be a time of peace for you everyone involved.