The holidays have arrived! The holiday season is supposed to be a time for joy and family, a time where you are surrounded by your children and happiness. Unfortunately, for parents who have recently separated from or divorced their spouse, the holiday season could spell anxiety and stress.
Here are a few easy tips that can help your family navigate the holiday season more smoothly by reducing stress for both parents and children.
Prioritize the kids
Using the kids’ experience as a starting point will help you to guide decisions from a centered place. For example, if you are looking at squeezing in four different family celebrations in one day to give everyone time with the kids, take a minute and imagine the experience from your child’s point of view. How many transitions does that create? When does your child get the time to relax and connect with family? At some point, you aren’t making memories; you’re just creating chaos and exhaustion.
Co parents are encouraged to sit down and determine how you will spend the time off during the holidays well in advance. Discuss the traditions you value and want to see carried on with the kids and be willing to let go of activities that cause more stress than enjoyment. Even if you have a parenting plan, that plan needs to adapt to meeting the changing needs of your child. For example, your 2-year-old needs a nap and more consistency. Your 16-year-old will want and need time with friends during school breaks.
While good planning is important, you also need to maintain some degree of flexibility for smooth co-parenting during the holidays. No plan can account for all of the things that might happen. Perhaps your child gets sick and you need to scale back some of the celebrating. Maybe your in-laws come into town unexpectedly. Goodwill gestures make co-parenting a much smoother process in the long run and are good for your kids too!
It is easy for holidays to become excessive, but this may not be what parents want for their children. Talk about the number of gifts, money limits, and things that are off-limits (for example, certain electronics or items that feel age-inappropriate or outside your value system). Remember all the in-laws who might also be giving gifts and share with them any guidelines that you have created. This process is much easier the earlier you establish it. For co parents who try to “out-do” each other with lavish gifts, remember it is going to be much harder to reign in your gift giving than if you establish a reasonable plan from the beginning. It is also much harder to undo entitlement in your child than it is to avoid it in the first place.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
It’s easy for anyone to get overwhelmed during the holidays. Make sure you keep in mind your own self-care, both physically and emotionally. The more you take care of yourself, the more you will be able to take care of your kids.
Co parents are always encouraged to seek help from a divorce coach, a therapist or mediator if there is increased conflict during the holidays. A third party can help promote constructive discussions. The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year for all families, including those that are adjusting to new circumstances.