Divorce is tough enough and when adding holidays into the mix you may feel as if a recipe for disaster is in the making. Although with the right ingredients and a little extra effort, Thanksgiving after divorce might deliver up a dish worth sharing year after year. Even with the challenges that are bound to happen, there are some components you can stir together to create a recipe for handling the holidays after divorce.
Validate Your Children’s Feelings
The holidays are harder right now for all involved and even with the best intentions of trying to protect your children, you may be creating more difficulties if you’re not addressing their feelings. Children, like adults, have a myriad of emotions swirling about during divorce such as anger, sadness, and fear. The holidays can amplify these emotions.
Trying to convince yourself or your kids otherwise (or that they shouldn’t feel the way they do) will only make the feelings more intense. Instead of trying to put a “positive” spin on things by telling them something like, “You get two Thanksgiving feasts!”, acknowledge their feelings even if it’s difficult. “I can tell that you are really sad that we aren’t all together this year.” This will help your kids feel heard and understood, which is an important step for the process of healing and moving forward.
The Thanksgiving holiday is about being grateful. This is where authentic positivity is helpful. It might sound extremely difficult to feel grateful for a divorce or to celebrate when you feel sad, angry, hurt, or lonely, but it is possible. Even during undesirable times, you can find things that spark gratitude. You might find it in your health, supportive family and friends, the close relationship with your children, or simply that you made your bed today. Expressing gratitude will model for your children positive coping skills and remind you all that there are still good things in life.
Make a Plan
Get your holiday schedule on the calendar as soon as possible and coordinate with your co-parent. Having this information available will be super helpful as you arrange plans over those dates. It is important that your children know where they will be spending the holidays and for you, as you let your holiday party hosts know whether your kids will be attending with you or not.
Having a plan provides fundamental structure and around that schedule can be some flexibility, especially if you don’t have your kids for as much time or on certain dates. For example, enjoy activities that aren’t date specific such as gift shopping with your children, decorating the Christmas tree, or baking cookies. These mini celebrations will lessen the stress and increase the holiday joy.
Create New Traditions
By design holiday celebrations create rituals. Some of the traditions are a source of comfort, while others serve as painful reminders of your divorce. To ease the discomfort, try creating some new traditions.
Visit family that you were unable to visit previously because historically you spent the day at your in-laws, cook a special meal, or volunteer to deliver food to those in need. Maybe there is a new book or a classic holiday movie that you can share with your children. There are few things that children love more than having their parents read to them or snuggling on the couch munching popcorn and watching a holiday story with mom or dad.
New traditions are something you can decide together. Get your kids involved and come up with ideas that you all would like to create this year. Even one new tradition will get the ball rolling.
Maintain Meaningful Traditions
In addition to creating new rituals, it is comforting to maintain meaningful traditions. Continuing at least some of these traditions will provide a sense of continuity during this time of change. When your children see a favorite ritual taking place, it is reassuring that everything in their world is not changing.
Even if mom or dad isn’t at Thanksgiving, sharing the tradition of going around the table and giving thanks may bring comfort to you all. If your children are old enough, they can recreate a favorite dish to bring to the gathering. By continuing simple to replicate traditions, you and your children will not feel so displaced.
Most likely you will have times over the holidays without your children. To some, this might feel lonely and to others a much-needed break. Even if you enjoy your alone time to unwind and relax, the holidays can damper the experience of “me time”. There isn’t a right or wrong way; it’s about what is meaningful and enjoyable to you.
Whether you will be spending the holidays with or without your kids, it will benefit you to connect with loved ones. Get together with friends and family to enjoy the holiday instead of spending it alone at home. Experiencing the holidays with loved ones will help to lessen the negative emotions you may be feeling during this time of year. You can even connect with our supportive Split.fyi Community for an extra boost of cheer.
Will the holidays be different? Yes they will be, but different doesn’t have to be bad. Toss some of the “ingredients” listed above into your holiday stew and quite possibly you will have a healthy recipe for handling the holidays after divorce.
Do you have some tips not mentioned in this article? We’d love to hear what has helped you navigate the holidays in the comments below.