The first holiday after a divorce can be an emotionally fraught time for both you and your child. High expectations for togetherness and festive cheer often intensify feelings around the holidays, and this is especially true when your family has recently gone through a separation or divorce. Even when a divorce is relatively amicable, the stress and pressure of the holidays can create unexpected tension between you and your now ex-spouse. And it can be hard to maintain holiday cheer while you are just beginning to find your footing in your post-divorce life.
Children, too, are learning how to navigate this uncharted path. Your child is likely looking forward to the holiday season, but also might be worried about how things will change now that their parents are apart.
4 Tips for Navigating the Holidays
Your first holiday after a divorce might not be easy, but here are 4 tips for navigating this holiday season with your child that will ease the way.
#1. Put Your Child First
The first holiday season after a divorce will likely be a challenging one for your child, but it is possible to help create happy memories for them during this time by keeping their experience at the forefront of your plans.
Hopefully, your holiday schedule was negotiated into your parenting plan during your divorce proceedings. However, while that plan can provide a good guideline for when each of you will spend time with your child during the holidays, it may feel very different once you put that schedule into practice.
Perhaps your child is with you for Christmas Eve and with your co-parent for Christmas Day, with the understanding that next year, those days will switch. That may have sounded reasonable when you agreed to the plan, but now you are thinking about how much you will miss seeing your child open presents on Christmas Day. You may be feeling sad, resentful, or even angry at your ex-spouse.
It’s important to create space for yourself to grieve that time with your child. Splitting the holidays is never easy and rarely feels fair, but it’s also crucial that your child be allowed to joyfully experience their time with both you and their other parent. Let your child express their excitement freely without the burden of carrying your adult emotions.
#2. Be Flexible and Clear
Putting your child’s needs at the forefront can also help when plans go awry. Perhaps you and your co-parent have agreed to each take half of your child’s holiday vacation, but now your ex-spouse is asking if they can have an extra day to visit family.
It’s normal to feel possessive of the time you have with your child after a divorce, especially during the holidays, but it might be helpful to see the situation through your child’s experience of it. Work to communicate calmly and clearly about any proposed changes, be willing to compromise when possible, and focus on solutions that prioritize your child’s experience.
If, however, it feels like your ex-spouse is being unreasonable, remember that your parenting plan likely has a holiday schedule to fall back on. If a major life change subsequent to your divorce makes your existing holiday visitation schedule unworkable, it may be necessary to consult with a family law attorney about modifying your agreement.
#3. Make New Traditions
So much of the holidays is about traditions, and divorce can up-end not only those traditions, but also our grounding sense of continuity, familiarity, and belonging. Even while you might want to maintain your family’s old traditions for the sake of your child, it may feel emotionally heavy to do so when so much has changed. Instead, consider not only making new traditions, but putting a new twist on your old traditions.
Perhaps your family always watches a holiday movie together on Christmas Eve, but you’re worried that the absence of your former spouse will feel too heavy. Maintaining that tradition might be meaningful for you and your child, but you can shift the mood by infusing the event with new elements. Set a Christmas pajama-dress code, serve hot chocolate, or invite some close friends over to enjoy it with you.
You can also create totally new traditions. As a newly single parent, you have an opportunity to introduce new traditions that are special to just you and your child. If your child is old enough, you might even ask them what holiday traditions they might like to start – create a list and pick your favorites!
#4. Take Care of Yourself
Even if you were the one who wanted the divorce, the holidays may bring to the fore aspects of your pre-divorce family life that you are still mourning. If you are missing your child during all or part of the holidays, that time can be especially difficult. Be kind to yourself. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s important that you reach out for help. If you are feeling exhausted, you must take time to rest. And if you are feeling sad, it’s important to give yourself time to grieve.
This time without parenting responsibility can be an opportunity to take walks in nature, read books, pursue a new hobby, or even travel, but try to avoid the temptation to spend the holidays entirely alone. Make sure to communicate to your friends and family that you need extra support and lean on them to provide that sense of connection that we all crave during the holidays.
Finally, consider giving yourself a gift. So much of holiday traditions revolve around gift giving, and it can be hard to adjust to not receiving a special gift from your spouse. Instead, take this as an opportunity to indulge yourself with something you’ve had your eye on (perhaps something your ex-spouse may never have picked for you!).
At Clawson & Clawson, LLP, we know that this season can be especially hard for newly divorced families. If you would like to consult with one of our compassionate and experienced family law attorneys to negotiate or resolve any disputes about custody or visitation, please reach out to Clawson & Clawson, LLP at (719) 602-5888 today.