Holidays and Divorce

Surviving the Holidays After Divorce

Though many consider the holidays to be a time to celebrate peace and love, divorced couples can find it difficult to put down their swords.  The holidays can be difficult for divorced parents, but even more so for their children.  The following tips from licensed psychotherapist Donna Ferber should help such parents help their children have a better holiday season:

  1. Money, gifts, sweets and indulging don’t “make up” for anything. Your child is going to have TWO Christmases. No need to feel guilty. Most kids say the dual holidays are the best thing about being a divorced kid.
  2. If possible, make your plans with your ex-spouse ahead of time and stick to them. Let the kids know where they will be and when. It helps them feel in control. Let them make only age appropriate decisions. A good rule of thumb: if it is not a decision you would let your children make while you were married, then don’t let them make it now. Let your kids be kids.
  3. Be flexible. No, this is not a contradiction of #2. It means that stuff happens. So if your ex is two hours late because of an ice storm or because his cousin Joey showed up late, try to let it go.
  4. Keep your anger, resentment, annoyance, disgust about your ex, his sports car, his/her new love and his family, to yourself. Remember, your kids are part of both of you and when you slam your child’s other parent, your child feels slammed as well.
  5. Do not make your children responsible for your happiness. “Go have a good time with Dad in Jamaica, while I sit here miserable and all alone,” only breeds resentment and guilt in your child.
  6. Don’t compete. If he can afford more than you – fine. Rather than resenting his/her father( or mother), appreciate that your child can experience things you can’t buy him/her. Don’t overspend to keep up. Make memories by doing fun things together – bake cookies, read a Christmas story, build a snowman. Money does not buy love.
  7. The new girlfriend (or boyfriend) cannot and will not take your place.Children are unbelievably loyal. They can love many people, but the title and honor of parent is yours and will be only yours forever. So, relax. Deal with your jealousy without making your kid responsible for your feeling threatened. This is simply not the job of the child.
  8. Divorce is the severing of the adult relationship and should not be the termination of the parent-child relationship, no matter how much you really can’t stand him/her. If your child is not in harm’s way, the relationship needs to continue. This is the CHILD’s right. If you really feel the child is in danger, then get a lawyer, prove it and have supervised visitation. Never keep a child from being with a parent based on your own feelings!
  9. Lastly, remember that you are the adult. Suck up your anger toward your ex and make the holidays wonderful for your kids.

Source:  “Children, Divorce & the Holidays: Making it Happy not Horrible!” by Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, a licensed psychotherapist in Connecticut and the author of From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, which won an Honorable Mention Award by the Independent Publishers Association. To read more about the author and her work, please visit www.donnaferber.com.

Thanksgiving After Divorce

During and after a divorce, Thanksgiving can be a difficult hurdle. Especially the first time. A holiday meant to celebrate togetherness and family can be especially hard on children suffering the loss of exactly that stability. During your first Thanksgiving apart, you should expect to feel sad. More importantly, you should expect your children to feel sad. Emotions like sadness, confusion, and even anger are common and should be expected from children and yourself.

Some of my clients have developed different strategies to cope around Thanksgiving. One of my favorite is when the forge ahead and create new traditions. Some volunteer with community outreach programs like soup kitchens. Others visit a different relative for the Thanksgiving dinner. Whatever you do, take some time to imagine a new tradition. Even if you only do it for one year, the change can do everyone good.

Other family members are important too. You might feel like a burden, talking about your feelings and sadness. But, at the risk of being cliche, what are friends for? I’m not suggesting that you spend the entire Thanksgiving weekend in a fog of sadness, but allowing yourself to feel those emotions isn’t a bad thing. If you need a shoulder to cry on, let your friends and family be there for you. Get it out of your system, so that the celebration itself can be about a new beginning.

A new factor that can’t be avoided is scheduling. Odds are, your children will now have two different Thanksgiving dinners to attend. The best results I’ve seen come from families who recognize that Thanksgiving is just a day, it’s the celebration that is important. And that celebration can be repeated on any day. Scheduling Thanksgiving dinner for Friday doesn’t change the holiday, and with some flexibility like that – both parents can have a great holiday with the kids. After all, what’s more important: the day of the week or time with your children?

And whatever you do, don’t bring the kids into any scheduling conflicts with your ex. It’s not their fault. And frankly, there’s no reason they should even know about them. Finding time to sit down for the holiday meal is your responsibility. This is going to be stressful enough with all the changes. Don’t make things worse.

Even in the midst of divorce, there are still reasons to be thankful. That’s the reason for the holiday, and family disruptions or not — remembering that is beneficial for everyone. Take some time, and make a list of things that you are thankful for. It might be hard at first, but ultimately it could bring some perspective that will improve the day for you and your children.