If you are a divorced parent, or in the process of a divorce and this is your first holiday season in your new family structure, you have likely already noticed the stress around scheduling. Like many parents, you may have high expectations of how perfect you want this time to be for your children.
If the expectations are not met, you may feel disappointed with yourself and feel as though you failed. You need to cut yourself some slack. Perfection is a myth. Take some time for yourself and give yourself some much needed downtime. Smiles and laughter create the atmosphere needed for enjoyable holidays, not the mythical perfect holiday. There are also some steps you can take to have as much joy as possible this holiday season.
You and Your Co-Parent Need to Understand the Schedule
Communication will get you through the tough times. Misunderstandings can balloon out of proportion, so work to prevent them.
Check in with your co-parent and say, “This is my understanding of how the holidays are going to work. Do you agree?” Write that schedule on the calendar and make sure your children know the schedule to help resolve any anxieties they may have.
If there is no court order, are there family traditions that can help you determine a good schedule. For example, if Christmas Eve has traditionally been spent with the extended family of one parent, and Christmas Day with the extended family of the other parent, try to do that this year if possible.
You can agree to switch it up next year or the two of you may decide to keep these traditions in place.
Children have their own expectations and anxieties around the holidays. Younger children may be concerned about how Santa Claus will find them if they are not at “their” home on Christmas Eve. Reassure them that Santa Claus knows and sees everything, including if they have been bad or good.
Older children may want to make plans with friends and want to be at a certain parent’s home to ensure they can spend time with their friends. While family is important, teenagers also need to include their friends. Be aware of these concerns and while may not be able to fully accommodate your teenager’s social life, help them to come up with alternatives plans.
Remember that you are modeling for your children how to deal with difficult circumstances. You are teaching them resilience. Be mindful of how you feel, and you choose to deal with those emotions knowing that your children are watching and learning. Children are also dealing with some of the very same emotions, and you can be open about the difficulty of change and methods for accepting change, being grateful for all that have, and finding joy in the new.
Find Joy in the Time with Your Family
Focus on the time you have with your children. Yes, you will miss them and may feel as if time has been unfairly taken away from you, perhaps angry that your co-parent is not reasonable. Use your time wisely by creating child-centered activities – watch movies together they enjoy, decorate the house, make crafts, be goofy, tell bad jokes, take a walk together and enjoy the outdoors and your neighbors’ decorations. You do not need to spend a lot of money, just be with your children. Listen to them. Tell stories of when you were young and their age.
Do not use this time to criticize your co-parent. While this should always be your rule it can be difficult during the holidays if you feel that your co-parent is taking precious moments and traditions from you. Be mindful of the positive moments you have together with your children, express gratitude for this time and for the new traditions you are creating together.
When it is time for the exchange of the children, be positive. Be the “safe” parent. Be the parent with whom the children always know it is okay for them to express their excitement about going to be with their other parent and about having had a good time with their other parent. Also be the parent who can allow the children to say if they missed you, and that it’s okay to have missed you, but that you are also glad that they are able to spend time with both of their parents. Always send your children off with a smile, hug, and “I love you” and welcome them back just the same.
Downtime While the Children are Away
Relax. Plan something for yourself when your children are with your coparent. Join a group hike. Read a book. Spend time with family and friends. Get to know yourself as a non-married individual. It is so easy for parents to lose a sense of self. Take care of yourself. Let go of the guilt. It is okay to enjoy your free time.