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The Post Divorce New Normal: The Holidays


The Post Divorce New Normal: The Holidays

By Jennifer Webbe VanLuven, MSW, LCSW, CDM


Stress comes with the holiday season.  There is so much to do and so many expectations.  Family to be seen, school holiday programs, gifts to be bought and wrapped and special celebrations such as Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and New Years.  When parenting from two households, holiday stress can seem overwhelming.


You may also discover this time of year stirs up a lot of different feelings for your children.  If this is their first holiday season following your separation or divorce, keep in mind that the change in the family may hit them hard. Although you can’t take away the pain your children feel, how you spend the first holiday after a separation or divorce can greatly impact children’s perception about the change in the family.

All too often, parents get caught up in issues like who is buying what or how the holidays are to be shared.  One of the best gifts that you can give to your children is use this time to rebuild a sense of family.  Create new traditions and events in each household.  Children need to know both that life will go on and they will be okay.  While your child’s perceived loss of ‘family’ may hit them very hard during this time of year, there are ways you can help your children manage the experience in a healthy way.

Keep your emotions in check.  Children take emotional cues from their parents.  The holidays are hard on parents, but parents need to realize that it is doubly hard for the children.  If you as a parent need a little extra emotional support, don’t be afraid to call in the troops and take care for your emotions so you can take care of your children’s.

Silence isn’t always the best way to go.  Talk to your children about the plans for the holidays.  Kids like to know what is going to happen and prepare their selves for what will be happening.  Talk with them about what will be different and what will stay the same.  Not having this conversation, keeps children guessing what the holiday will look like. That’s not a comfortable place for anyone to be.

Keep the focus on creating meaning.  Prioritize cutting back and being mindful of the true meaning of the holiday.  Find an activity that promotes a deeper meaning for the holiday: adopt a family or volunteer at a homeless or animal shelter.  Supplement old memories with new traditions. 

Let your stress guide you

Different isn’t necessarily a disaster.  Ask yourself which traditions are worth keeping and which can be replaced.  You don’t have to recreate the whole holiday.  Maybe think of one new thing that you can do as a family instead of something that will highlight the newly absent parent.

Think twice (or even three times) about keeping the family together for the holidays after separation or divorce. As some family court judges are wont to say, at a certain point “you just have to rip the band-aid off. Remarriage, new partners and new children will simply make such gatherings uncomfortable for most adults. Start getting over the fact that the family you knew no longer exists. Don’t torture yourself by spending what is supposed to be joyful family time with someone who rejected you as a life partner (or who you rejected). Pull up your big boy/girl pants and confidently stride toward your future.

Make gift-giving painless for the children. Children love to select and give presents.  No matter how you feel about your ex, do not allow your child to arrive empty handed.  It is not about you, it’s about your children. Your name isn’t on the package and it doesn’t matter that you paid for it. You are giving the gift of a sense of security to your child and that gift is priceless.

Do not give gifts with strings.  Think before you buy.  If you are hesitant about the child taking this gift to the other parent’s home, then don’t buy it.  If the child can’t take the gift wherever he or she chooses, then it is not really a gift.

Creating the new normal is tough.  The difficulty is not only for the children but for you as well.  There are many ways to create happy holidays for your children and yourself.  Take time to do a frequent status check with yourself.  Knowing where your emotions lie is imperative in keeping children feeling safe and happy.