If this is your first holiday season after a separation, you may feel sad, lost, or overwhelmed thinking of your former traditions, wondering if you will be able to give your kids a happy holiday and trying to figure out how. Even if it’s not your first Christmas (or your choice of holiday celebration) after a break-up, it can still be difficult, and there are several things to keep in mind to make it easier and ensure your kids still get to rejoice in the magic of the holidays.
Let your kids be kids
Regardless of the situation, allow your children to be children. Which means, do not involve them in adult situations, discussions, or problems (and make sure they are nowhere in earshot when you are discussing them, because, I promise, they are listening). Be honest with them, but in a way that allows them to not take on the problem. For example, if money is tight after your divorce, and you don’t have the ability to provide the Christmas presents they are used to, don’t tell them that since their Dad left you can’t afford presents. Instead, you can say something like, “We are working on saving money and need to be very mindful about what we are spending, so Christmas will feel a bit different this year. We will be spending time together and making things instead of buying them.” And honestly, this is what I believe we should be doing anyway, so it allows us to get back to what is important about the holidays: gratitude, togetherness, and most of all…love, which you can also teach your kids.
Christmas is not a competition
Many separated parents find themselves in a competition with each other during the holidays, even if that isn’t what they intended. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of trying to buy your children’s love and goodwill or trying to make up for hard emotional times with extravagant gifts. Trust me, this is not the answer.
If possible, work with your co-parent to agree on a gift budget and to discuss presents ahead of time. If that’s not possible because of a difficult situation or if you are parallel parenting without a willing partner, do what you can to not get wrapped up (pun intended) in a competition or worry about what they will be doing. Expensive presents may buy goodwill in the short term, but parenting is a long game. Children will be able to look back and remember what is truly important – time, attention, and love (healthy, boundaried love).
With blended families, it can be overwhelming to try to fit in all the things and all the people. It’s OK if you can’t (or don’t want to) visit everyone. It’s OK if you’d rather do a Secret Santa or spend time with family rather than gifting for everyone.
For newly blended families, work on finding balance between the two family’s traditions and/or work to create your own new traditions if that feels good. If this is your first blended family Christmas, discuss gifting and traditions ahead of time to ensure there are no surprises and there is balance between the families. As we discussed last month here, make sure you include new family members, especially new kiddos so they don’t feel left out.
Only combine holidays if you can truly show up in love
Our family is one who still celebrates holidays together, and it is wonderful, but be honest with yourself about your or co-parent’s ability to show up in love. If you cannot fully feel aligned with your true self and act with love toward your former partner, do not try to force togetherness. And I don’t mean in love, I mean with love. If you can’t be in the same room with them and not feel triggered, negative or “off” – if you can’t really be your true self (which is love), then don’t do it.
I see a lot of people try to make it work “for the kids”, but this is just like staying married for the kids. Kids are very smart, and they are way more tuned into energy and what is not said than we give them credit for. They will absolutely notice that things are tense, you are unhappy or that it feels forced. It is much more important for your children to have a holiday with a parent who is aligned with peace and love than two parents together in the same room.
For families with separate holidays, do what you can to allow the kids to be with both parents during the holiday (like splitting the day if you live close enough, or splitting Christmas Eve and Christmas day). The most important thing is agreeing to a schedule that works for everyone, especially the kids, and finding a way to be in alignment with it (not complaining to the kids about the schedule or making them feel guilty or sad that they won’t be with you for a holiday). If you and your co-parent cannot agree, please find someone to work with who can help you through this important facet of co-parenting.
And if you end up alone on a holiday because your littles are with their other parent, do what you can to take care of yourself. Be with your feelings of sadness and loneliness first and allow them to move through in a healthy way (crying, deep breathing, journaling), and then do something loving for yourself – a nice bath, a good book, a Hallmark movie and hot cocoa or an evening with friends or other loved ones.
Find balance, focus on love, make choices that feel like peace. Happy Holidays!