Holidays can be especially tricky to navigate as a newly divorced couple. It takes time to settle into the new normal -- for you, your ex, and your children -- and the holidays can be a great time for each of you to set new traditions that work for the shift in your family situation.
Parents must still parent
The important thing to remember is that children need to have their needs met; they need to be nurtured and comforted. Spend time with them and remind them that you will always be there for them, no matter what. They need to feel a sense of security from both parents.
Consequently, parents: when planning for the holidays after your divorce, you must rise up and step into your adult mode. It is important that you learn to override your own feelings for your ex and for the challenges of being divorced, and be positive and present when you are with your children. Though your marriage may have failed to survive, your new family structure can still prosper if you take a mature, responsible role in making the best of your new situation.
New family dynamics = new traditions
Sometimes families reorganize in a way that includes step-parents and step-siblings. Here are some ways to start creating new holiday traditions after a divorce:
1. You and your spouse (if you have one) should set aside time to discuss a plan with your ex and new spouse, without anyone else present. Find a neutral meeting space such as a restaurant (not one of your homes) and, using my empathic process, take turns outlining what existing holiday traditions are important to each of you, as well as any existing traditions in any step-families to consider. This is where you must remember to place your children's happiness above your own heated emotions, and find solutions that will work for you, your ex, and your children.
2. Invite children to participate in the process of creating new family rules and holiday experiences. Once again using my empathic process, allow your children to give input into the plans you and your ex discussed. Give them options from a few different choices that you have already thought through, if personally invested, they will be more likely to adapt comfortably to these new traditions. Your children may have inherited new parents and new siblings, and no one asked them their opinions or gave them a choice. The trauma of divorce can be deconstructing and allowing your children to participate in the final say of new holiday traditions can lead the way toward healthy reconstruction.
3. Plan on one-on-one time with each child during the holidays. If you have more than one child, it is important to remember that each child will react differently to the trauma of divorce. Younger children may regress into old patterns, such as wetting the bed, while older children may act out in anger or retreat in silence. The holidays are a wonderful time to reconnect on an individual basis. Plan a library and lunch date with your child who loves to read, or an ice skating and hot cocoa date with your oldest child. If this one-on-one connection time proves to be a success, you can easily repeat these experiences each year as new traditions with each of your children.
4. Hand down an important holiday task to your child. Divorce can sometimes make children feel like they are out of control and insignificant. Handing down an important annual holiday task that has always traditionally been handled by you or your ex, such as cutting the Thanksgiving turkey or hanging the top star on the tree, can help a child feel important. It is also a way to show your child that you trust him with such a valuable task, and a way to mark the transition from the old traditions to the new.
5. Expand your circle during the holidays. After a divorce, children especially can feel isolated and alone. Now is a great time to reach out to friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors, and invite them to your holiday gatherings, to help your children see how many people really do care about them. Although you and your ex may no longer be in love, you - and your circle of trusted friends and family - still care very much for your children. This is also a tradition that can help you navigate through the tricky holidays after your divorce.