The holidays are supposed to be all candy canes and sugar plums for children, but for children of divorce the holidays can be especially stressful. They may miss the parent they are not spending the holiday with. The holidays can be a painful reminder that life is not as it used to be. It can be difficult for parents as well.
Schedule Holiday Events in Advance
One way to make the holidays less stressful is to plan ahead and prioritize. Make a wish list of holiday activities and events that are most important says, Karon Phillips Goodman, author of The Stepmom’s Guide to Simplifying Your Life [Equilibrium Press, 2002], in an interview in 2006. Then find a good time to have a conversation with other parent and be specific about the dates and times. Phillips Goodman stresses that it is important to remain calm and respectful. Listen carefully to find out what he or she really wants: it may be possible to give up something less important to get something at the top of the wish list. After reaching an agreement, put the schedule in writing.
Communication is Key in Divorced Families
Author D.K. Simoneau says, “Communication is key to everything, and the holidays are no exception. Talk to your kids and ex-spouse to determine a schedule that works best for everyone.” Some families split the holidays by time, so that a child is with each parent half the day. Others prefer to split the holidays so children spend every Thanksgiving with mom and Easter with Dad, which allows traditions to build, says Simoneau, a divorced mother of two and author of We’re Having a Tuesday [AC Publications, 2006], a children’s book about one little girl’s experience of being split between two households.
Be Flexible and Reasonable with Ex-Spouse
Simoneau says it’s important to be flexible and reasonable, and keep your word. Don’t over-react if the ex-spouse is late.
Parents should put their love for the child first. The child may be missing the parent he is not with. Simoneau suggests allowing the child to communicate with the missing parent. The child is possibly celebrating a holiday without one of the most important people in his life. It’s okay for them to want to share part of it with them.
Establish Holiday Traditions
Establish new traditions. Perhaps every holiday morning starts with homemade cinnamon rolls. Or start a caroling tradition. It is good to incorporate new so that whatever might be missing from the old might not be as missed.
Phillips Goodman says just because “we’ve always done it this way” doesn’t mean these holidays have to be identical to previous years.
On a similar note, don’t abandon established traditions. Keeping those that are most dear will help a child feel grounded, according to Dr. David Fassler, trustee of the American Psychiatric Association in a press release from the APA.
Avoid Overscheduling, Take Quiet Time
The American Psychiatric Association also suggests parents avoid over scheduling so kids don’t get burned out, overtired, or cranky. Make sure children get plenty of sleep. Give kids some downtime; leave room for quiet activities like listening to music reading or taking a walk in the woods. Parents should also take time to de-stress.
Don’t try to overcompensate for being an absent parent with extra toys and gifts. What children really want and need is parents’ attention and time.
Be Realistic About Holiday Joy
Finally, keep expectations realistic. Don’t force children to act happy if they are not. “It’s not your responsibility to be sure everyone around you has a perfect holiday. Holiday joy comes from within a person – it can’t be created by someone else,” says Dr. David Whitehouse of United Behavioral Health, a United Health Group company in a press release.
By planning ahead, being flexible and communicating with respect, divorced parents can enjoy a less stressful holiday season. Parents and families should also include quiet time in their plans and traditions.