The holidays, for all that we look forward to them, can also bring out stress, tension and emotional tests. And when we add divorce into the mix, things can get even more challenging.
My parents split up when I was a young girl and although I looked forward to presents and special holiday treats, underneath that excitement was always a layer of sadness. Because I knew that one of my parents would be spending the holidays alone. That knowledge made my heart hurt.
These days, I observe my own children navigating a similar landscape. I watch as they jockey between houses and allegiances. It seems even more complicated than when I was little. Do my girls spend time with my created family, their stepsister and our extended relatives, or go to their Dad's and be with their half brothers and stepmom?
My solution has always been to attempt to bring everyone together. It worked for me growing up. My father started coming to my mother's house, bringing my nana and aunt, around the time I entered high school. I was secretly relieved, because it meant that no one was alone.
Now that I'm the parent, I've tried to remedy our holiday situation by offering to do the same thing, have everyone come to my house. But maybe that isn't the right solution, because something different may stress my kids out. Perhaps they feel pulled by other dilemmas such as wanting to be in two places simultaneously?
So here's what I've come up with:
1. Listen to the Kids
Growing up, I never had any say in where I spent my holidays. My parents made all the decisions and I went along. Truthfully, I never questioned it. That's just how it was.
But what if I'd been asked? Would that have helped? This idea hit me over the head like a ton of bricks the other day, a big a-ha. What do my kids want? Why don't I ask them? Giving children say helps them feel less like victims and invites them into the discussion. Of course it also depends on how old they are but even elementary school aged children can be surprisingly astute.
Divorce is hard to navigate for everyone, not just the parents but the kids too. After all, they're the ones that get shuttled back and forth. So, ask them how they want to spend the holidays. They might have the perfect answer!
2. Lay It Down
Obviously we all got divorced for reasons. And during holiday times, it's easy for some ill will to flair up. Decide, for the sake of the season and the kids, if it's possible to lay those feelings aside. Just for now, to make things work harmoniously for the children. Think about it, not as giving those feelings up, but as putting them aside for the moment.
3. Remember the Goal
Holidays are supposed to be a time of gratitude and love, about giving and receiving. If we can orient ourselves back to this place, it can help us better see how to navigate the situation.
The goal is to recognize and honor each person involved and create plans that are in everyone's highest and best good. Maybe that sounds lofty, but it's also do-able when we can do two things: Be willing to talk about a workable schedule and possibly compromise. That's when we have to remember the goal. It may mean releasing some control and finding common ground. But in the end, it will be worth it when the holiday is peaceful, enjoyable and stress-free.
We all want the holidays to be special. We strive to create quality time together that's fun and joyful. By inviting participation in establishing a schedule that best honors each person's needs and wishes, gives everyone the opportunity to work together. And that feels so much better than having no say.
Shakti Sutriasa is the Founder of DecideDifferently.com, a personal development company committed to empowering people to live more connected and fulfilled lives through coaching, counseling and workshops. Her unique approach combines modern psychology and spirituality to support people who are seeking positive change and self-transformation. Shakti is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and has an MA in Education. Learn more at DecideDifferently.com