Whether this is your first holiday season post-divorce, or you’ve been through several, it’s likely one of the hardest time of the year for you. Navigating the holidays after a divorce is much like navigating the holidays after the loss of a loved one. You likely are mourning the loss of making new memories and how the holidays “should” look like as a family. It is perfectly normal (and healthy) to have those feelings of dread and angst towards the upcoming holiday season. With the holidays comes the pressure to feel that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” when in fact through your grief you might be thinking that it’s the least wonderful time of the year. If this is your first holiday season post-divorce, you probably have a lot of questions going through your head. What will you do? Where will you go? How will you celebrate? How can you even thing of celebrating during this time of grief? Where will the kids be? What if you don’t want to be around people? These questions are completely normal as the holiday season presents itself with some unique challenges to navigate through. It might be difficult to consider your own needs, but now is the time to think about yourself, and what is healthy for YOU. For some that might mean jumping in neck deep into the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa festivities and keeping yourself too busy to think, and for others booking a trip to Mexico and forgetting the holidays even exist might feel like a better option. It’s important to remember that you do not have to give into the pressure of the holidays. Give yourself permission to organize your holiday season is the best way that works for you. You might be thinking “what if I don’t know what’s best for me?” Or “what about the kids?” If you don’t have children it might be easy to skate through the holidays without decorating a tree or baking cookies, but as parents there is always extra pressure to make sure that the holidays still go on for the kids. Create new traditions. Don’t be afraid to break the mold. What may have been all they’ve ever known for the holidays does not define the holidays. All your children need is your love and attention. 20 years from now they won’t remember the year they didn’t have the annual 12 foot Christmas tree, but they will remember laughing through the woods as you tried to find the worst looking Charlie Brown tree you could find! Wishing you luck, laughter, and whatever it takes for you to steer through the holidays this season. May you find your new normal someday, but until then, simply doing what you can to get through is enough too.
We are currently enjoying the annual Minnesota Get-Together. The State Fair is an annual ritualistic event that many Minnesotans appreciate. When families are divorcing, it is often important to continue to maintain these rituals to keep consistency for children. When conflict overwhelms a divorce these important factors may be lost. A collaborative process, that focuses on the interests of the parties can help keep these important rituals in the family. Many families take the annual trek to St. Paul, Minnesota to the State Fair grounds. Whether they drive and pay $20 to park on someone’s lawn or jump in a church parking lot and take a free shuttle, they all end up at the Fair. Once there, they may play games in the Midway, taste meatloaf on a stick or Sweet Martha’s Cookies, or explore the many educational/agricultural opportunities. There are parades and musical performances. Animals galore. It seems everyone has their own “way” of exploring the Fair. When a family divorces, the annual Fair-going event may change. Some families can maintain the traditions and attend the fair together, despite the new status of divorce. Other families may trade-off the Fair event each year or share it in some way (mom and dad swap at the corner of Cosgrove and Randall). Or maybe a family friend or grandparent will maintain the tradition. What is most unfortunate, however, is when these types of traditions are lost altogether. It may result from financial challenges or anger between the parents. Sometimes rituals are just lost in the transitions – they may be forgotten. A collaborative process can help to keep the focus of divorce on the children. Keeping the focus on what matters most to them will help keep these types of rituals in the forefront. As a whole, the family will be better off and rituals can be maintained if you work together on the outcomes.
Children of divorce can provide unique insights. I recently had a conversation with a young woman whose parents had divorced more than a decade ago, while she was still in her teens. Looking back, she said she appreciates some little (and not so little) things her parents have done since the divorce to make their divorce a “good divorce,” including:
- Continuing to use the words “mom” and “dad” when referring to the other parent.
- Recalling happy memories of the marriage and her childhood (not erasing the past).
- Welcoming updates about the other parent’s post-divorce life.
- Communicating directly with each other to plan family events, without putting the kids in the middle.
- Taking responsibility for their own individual happiness.
- Having the kind of relationship that allows your kids to relax at family events.