In our busy law office, clients who come to us during the holidays always seem a bit more distressed or upset than at other times of the year. We understand. They are going through one of the most difficult and stressful period of their lives at a time of year where everyone is expected to give more, love more, and forgive more. They feel confused and wonder how to find it within themselves to do all of that in the face of a divorce. If children are involved, this time period can become even more difficult and emotional to navigate.
No doubt you need a plan.
One thing to remember is that oftentimes, our emotional state is attached to familiar actions and surroundings. So, the very first thing to do is to change that.
1. If possible, venture out of your usual holiday surroundings. Visit out-of-state family, for instance. If this is not possible, see below.
2. Start a new tradition, on your own or with your children if you have them, rather than continue with the ones you followed with your spouse. This will keep you focused on the positive and new rather than distressing over what’s been lost. For the kids, it could be fun and take their minds off what’s now different, namely, that for the first time in their lives, they are only with one parent at a time for this year’s holiday.
Tom had always wanted to take the kids ice-skating around the holidays, but his soon-to-be ex-wife didn’t like it at all, so they never went. He decided to make it a new holiday tradition to spend an afternoon at the ice-skating rink with the kids, and take them for hot chocolate afterward. It turned out to be a hit with them and gave everyone hope that the holidays could still be a happy time for them despite the divorce.
3. If your children will be with your ex on the holiday itself, plan ahead of time to do something to help others. It’s a well-known fact that helping others lifts us in turn. Volunteering your time to a shelter on that day, for instance, would take your mind off your own suffering and warm your heart as you help others even less fortunate than you. Or find other single parents whose children will be with their other parent that day and celebrate together, doing something none of you usually does on that day.
Karin reached out to two other friends whose children were going to be with their other parent for the last day of Hanukkah. She arranged ahead of time for them to visit residents of a nursing home who didn’t get visitors or whose families lived out-of-state. They bought several low-cost gifts and wrapped them in bright paper and delivered them to these residents with good wishes, bringing tears of joy to the eyes of many of them. By the end of the visit, the women were thankful for the blessings they still had in their own lives. They followed this up with a special dinner at a restaurant none of them had ever visited. They vowed to do it again the next time their children were with their other parent for a holiday.
4. Your children need love from both parents during this time. The goal is to keep them from thinking they’re being pulled between their parents and made to feel guilty for being with one or the other parent on any given day. If you’re still working out the holiday visitation schedule, be sure that the children have ample time with each parent and vary it up, from year to year if the children have to travel some distance between you and your ex-spouse.
If a certain holiday is very important to both you and your spouse, make it so that you both get the children for a portion of that, but be sure and do it in a way that is enjoyable to the children too. If you live far apart, it would most likely be best to agree to an alternate-year holiday visitation schedule.
Robert and Diane, who live 500 miles apart, agreed that their two children should spend all of the holidays with one another at least until their late teens, and made it so that the children spent the December holiday with Diane during odd years and with Robert during even years.
Having to fly or take a bus to another state or country, or even city, to get from one parent to another on a holiday to meet a visitation schedule would most likely make your child dread that holiday rather than look forward to it.
5. Lastly, but most importantly is, do NOT become a recluse. Even if you’d rather pull a double shift at work, or stick your hand in fire, force yourself to go out and mingle with good friends or family (stay away from those who constantly bring up negative things about your ex, or ask them to stop). Your spirits will lift from your new activities! We are social creatures and even when feeling low, we derive happiness and comfort from being around others.