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Tips for Managing the Holidays During and After Divorce

How to focus on the joys of the season during hard times.

Photo by cottonbro studio/pexels
Source: Photo by cottonbro studio/pexels

4 Tips for You

The holidays can trigger a wave of sadness and anger about your divorce. They are a painful reminder of how things used to be and how different your life is now. So what do you do?

If you are in the middle of your divorce, your schedule or parenting plan may not be done yet. You and your soon-to-be-ex will need to plan for the holidays several weeks or months in advance.

  1. Recognize your emotions and talk with a close friend, a family member, or your therapist so that you don’t have to bear them alone. Then it might be easier to share your children’s excitement as they prepare to leave your home for the celebrations. Keep the holidays cheerful for the sake of your kids. Remember that the divorce is just between you and your ex and that your kids’ holiday experience should still be a happy one.
  2. Make a plan with friends, or help at a homeless shelter if your kids are with your ex. Don’t isolate.
  3. Put your legal divorce process aside for the holidays. You can pick it up again in January. Setting aside the stress of the process will allow you to focus on what really matters during the season.
  4. Take care of yourself during this stressful and painful period. Eat healthy food you love, and take a walk every day. If you can get into nature, even better. Avoid the ways you might be drawn to anesthetize yourself: drinking, binging, drugs, shopping, and the other things you may have done in the past to try to feel better.

Try to remember that things will get better, and that next year will probably be easier.

5 Tips to Help Your Kids Enjoy the Holidays

Children can feel a sense of loss during the first holiday season after a separation or divorce. In addition, they make feel caught between you and your ex. They might worry about the parent they aren’t with or miss them. They might feel guilty about a parent spending the holiday alone. They may be caught in a loyalty bind.

  1. Don’t compete with your ex with gifts or rituals. Work together with your spouse, if you can. Coordinate your gift-giving and share the time.
  2. If both parents can spend the holiday together without conflict, plan some joint family events during the season to try to keep some of their traditions alive.
  3. Understand that this season is tough for everyone, including your ex, and your kids need your permission to enjoy the holiday even if you aren’t there. Prioritize your kids' emotions above your own.
  4. Encourage your children to make cards or gifts for their other parent. It sends them the important message of giving while taking them out of the loyalty confusion when you encourage their relationships with each of their parents.
  5. Parents who don’t spend the holiday together should make a plan well ahead of time and create new traditions with the kids. For example, if you aren’t celebrating together, the kids could be with one of you on Christmas Eve, and then with the other on Christmas Day. Talk to your children about the plan, and give them time to express their feelings while also reassuring them that you and your ex will still make the holidays wonderful, but just different. Your family will look different when you are separated or divorced, so try to focus on the meaning of the traditions you celebrate, and to bring light, joy, and peace to your children.

8 Divorce New Years Resolutions

If you are thinking about making some changes or renewing commitments to yourself, New Year’s is the perfect opportunity to make resolutions. Are you thinking about exercising more, losing weight, and eating a plant-based diet? Those are probably the most common resolutions, but by February, most will be a distant memory. If you are divorcing or have been divorced, here are eight resolutions that are sure to make 2023 a better year.

  1. Let go of anger and blame, and forgive (yourself or your ex). Whether you have been divorced for years or are in the divorce process, your anger and/or blame for your ex is unhealthy. The Amish have a saying, “Bitterness corrodes the container it’s in.” Practice letting go of the anger by focusing on things you are grateful for. Letting go of grudges will make for a more peaceful year. One way to let go of anger, blame, and grudges is to forgive. You may need to forgive your ex for betrayals. You may need to forgive yourself for things you did that contributed to the breakdown of your relationship.
  2. Speak respectfully and kindly to and about your ex. If you have children, they will be acutely aware of how you speak to or about the other parent. When you speak kindly about your ex, you model resilience and healing. You take the burden of your emotions off your children. Speaking respectfully and kindly calms your nervous system. This self-soothing will make each day a little bit better.
  3. Learn to be a good co-parent. Be cooperative and make compromises when necessary. Try to make the children’s transitions seamless. Be flexible when your ex requests a change in the schedule and ask for what you need in a friendly and clear way.
  4. Keep your kids out of the middle of your divorce or post-divorce relationship. Protect your children from the details of the divorce. Let your kids be kids. The roles kids sometimes assume in a divorce put them in the middle, such as: spy (“So does Daddy have a girlfriend?”); messenger (“Tell your mom she needs to get a job!”); confidante (“Let me tell you why your dad left us….and why the only reason I don’t kill myself is because of you…”); or ally (“You need to support me and be on my side, now. Your mom doesn’t care about us anymore.”).
  5. Keep your promises, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. Kids always have questions about what will change after a divorce and what will stay the same. Reassure them that while you can’t answer all their questions now, you will let them know as soon as you figure things out.
  6. Focus on the future. Part of recovering from the divorce is shifting your attention from the pain of the past to the opportunities in your future. Create a vision of how you’d like your life to look in a year, two years, five years. What will you be doing? What new activities will you have? Bringing your vision to reality starts today, one small step at a time. When you drift back to the wounds of the past, remind yourself to look forward. Recall your vision and focus on that.
  7. Stay on top of your finances. In most marriages, one person handles the finances, pays the bills, and stays on top of the budget. You may need help from your CPA or financial advisor.
  8. Take care of yourself. Divorce may be the most stressful experience of your life. Coping with stress in healthy ways is important. This seems obvious, but many people neglect their health when highly stressed, especially if you focus on your children.

As you move into the New Year with these resolutions, you will be building a better future for yourself and your children.

© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2022

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