The winter holidays are upon us. In many ways, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are times for celebration, gratefulness, and cheer. Even though the season may start with good-spirited intentions, the stress brought on by these holidays is real, and being separated or divorced around this time of year can steal away seasonal joy.
One way to minimize the stress is to create a holiday plan, particularly when minor children are involved. Similar to what you outlined during the divorce process, a plan can help you navigate your holiday schedules with your ex and extended family. The first step is to decide what is most important to you. Don’t focus on what you think you should or want others to see. Be honest – do you want to spend the day watching football and eating turkey, or would you rather spend the weekend together? Is opening presents the best part of the celebration or could you pass on a formal dinner? Is time away from your kids more important than the religious ceremony? Figure out what will make the holidays memorable. Just because you have an idea of what the perfect holiday activities look like does not mean your ex will agree. When developing your plan, including the activities you are willing to compromise on – perhaps you have the kids on Christmas day, and your ex gets Christmas eve. Maybe your ex gets everyone for Thanksgiving this year, and you get next year. Knowing when and where you are willing to be flexible will decrease tensions and allow you to formulate a plan that works for everyone.
Another benefit of making a holiday plan is that it helps set boundaries. In a divorce, in addition to dealing with your ex, you are dealing with extended family who often wants to spend time with your children during the holidays. Agreeing on a holiday plan will allow you and your ex to set expectations and help avoid surprises and disappointments. Suppose you need help settling on a plan; consider consulting a family law professional to help guide you to an agreement.
If you have grown children who have children of their own, a holiday plan is also key to a harmonious season. As you did when they were young, the goal is to minimize the stress on your children and grandchildren. As soon as possible, you should agree on a holiday schedule that includes the timing and length of visits, as well as other details that help make it smooth sailing for all involved.
Stress around the holidays does not only center around children. If you are divorced without children, this can also be a stressful and lonely time. Divorce, work, and current year stresses can change your perspective. This time of year is a good time to honor that. Being alone can be hard; sometimes, you just need to sit on the couch, eat popcorn, and watch a good movie. Give yourself those moments but once that is done, get up and make plans to create a happy holiday season. Remove the unrealistic expectations you may have about curating the perfect Instagram story because if we are honest with ourselves, we know that reality does not exist. Create new rituals that you can look forward to each year and take time to appreciate what you have and the love that surrounds you.
Holidays can bring up memories of what seemed to be the “good times” and amplify how things have changed in your life. There is no reason to live in the past, so this year raise a glass of eggnog, wine, champagne, or even coffee to celebrate each moment during the holiday season. We wish everyone a happy and healthy season.