Divorce: a separation, especially one that is total or complete.
Speaking from personal experience, I don't think this accurately describes the dissolution of a marriage. While the marriage itself may officially dissolve when a divorce is final, the ripple effect from the wreckage of the SS Relationship continues to make waves for years to come. Especially, around the holidays. Especially, when there are children involved.
When we first sail out into the sunset with our betrothed, we fantasize about what the future holds. Visions of our ideal life dance through our heads:
A home filled with children, their toys and their art,
Family dinners and trips that will stay in our hearts
And the holidays, filled with expectations so high
With menorahs or Santa, traditions money can't buy.
Then, somehow our love boat hits rough waters resulting in divorce, and the relationship sinks along with our sugar plum dreams. Our happily ever after story changes course into a new and undiscovered land, and we learn how to reinvent our lives, one step at a time, to what will become our new normal.
While the new normal may ultimately be better for everyone, we often only hear the bad, the worse, and the ugly when it comes to divorce stories. Tales of revenge and children being used as weapons to inflict harm against a former spouse put them in the middle of the battle. Though they shouldn't be anywhere near the divorce arena, they all too frequently end up there, feeling pulled in both directions, torn by the fear of disappointing either parent. This can be especially true during the holiday season.
The best gift we can give our children is to provide them with a sense of love and stability throughout the year, and to keep in mind that during the holidays it can be a bit more challenging, not only for us as parents, but also for them.
Below are some comments, questions and answers relevant to handling the holidays as divorced parents (all based on the assumption that a child's safety is not at risk):
Q: I'm in the process of a divorce and with the holidays approaching I'm not sure what to do. How do we divide up these special family days?
A: 1. Make sure that every decision is with the intention of doing what is best for your children. No matter how upset you are at your ex, your children's sense of security must come first.
2. Put your differences aside and communicate with your ex. Be (literally) on the same page as your ex.
3. Have a schedule in writing. Make sure it's very specific as to whom the children will be with and when.
4. Tips for making a schedule:
a) Be Specific. State exactly the day and time children are to be picked up and returned, and by whom.
b) Alternate Holidays. Some families alternate years, and some alternate within the same year.
c) Divide up the Holiday. Thanksgiving lunch with dad, and dinner with mom. Or, make a turkey the week before. Who says you can only have turkey on that Thursday?! Christmas and Christmas Eve can be split, and Chanukah has 8 days. On the positive side, the kids get to celebrate more!
d) Share Holidays. Some parents are able to be together in the same room to cut the turkey, sing carols, or light the candles. But, it also may confuse or sadden the children so talking with the children and consulting a professional could be helpful.
Q: My parents divorced after I left for college. I looked forward to celebrating Thanksgiving at my aunt's house, and then my dad said he wanted us to come celebrate with him. We compromised by sharing the day but I think he felt disappointed that we didn't change our tradition.
A: We tend to forget that even older children need to keep some old traditions. Pick a different holiday to spend with Dad. There are great opportunities hiding in what we think of as problems.
Q: Does keeping traditions make it harder on the kids? It's not the same as it was, and trying to reenact the ritual is just a big reminder that things have changed.
A: It's important to balance old traditions that provide familiarity and comfort to all, while creating new ones to assist the family in moving forward. This makes it easier to transition into the new situation.
Q: I'm going to be without my kids for the first time over the holidays. I'm already dreading it!
A: When we dread something, it will likely be dreadful. Change how you look at it. Challenge yourself to see this as an opportunity for you to have some rest and relaxation.
Second, giving is the spirit of the holidays. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen, or bringing gifts to children who are stuck in the hospital over the holidays. This is also a quick way to feel grateful for what you have.
Q: This is my first Christmas as a divorced dad. My kids are coming to my place for dinner and I have no idea what to do. I'm afraid I'll disappoint my kids. What should I do?
A: Take a deep breath and remember your children love you unconditionally, and you have options!
1. If you're too afraid to cook, tell them you want to give them a special treat by going out for dinner.
2. If you're willing to take a stab at that ham or turkey, the Internet is your friend, providing a plethora of recipes.
3. Make it a family project. Get the kids involved and cook together in the kitchen. Make it fun and create new memories!
While I like to always focus on the positive, here are a few do's and don'ts that are helpful for the holidays, and all year round:
Don't make kids feel they have to choose sides.
Don't tell them how awful their other parent is.
Don't try to buy their love.
Don't use them as pawns on your chessboard of divorce.
Don't make them feel responsible for your happiness.
Do teach them that attitude is everything.
Do teach them they have a choice in how they respond to situations.
Do show them that they're loved unconditionally.
Do create a loving, secure environment.
Do show them it's possible to stand up for yourself and still compromise.
Holiday time carries with it certain expectations. Some of these we put on ourselves, and others are imposed upon us by society. Try to focus on what is best for you and your family and tune out the rest of the noise. Let it be a time to be grateful for what we have. When we focus on all that is good in our lives it helps to brighten the dark shadows cast by the difficulties we face. Children will follow your lead, so always take the high road. Onward and upward! Happy Holidays!
To read more about Nancy's adventures, her poignant, empowering and humorous view on life's lessons, follow her weekly blog at www.nancytellsall.com, and Facebook and Twitter.