The end-of-the-year holiday season can be stressful. There are presents to buy and meals to cook and people to be around with whom we don’t necessarily agree. Even the most functional of families sometimes find it difficult to maintain their equilibrium among all the chaos. Add divorce into the mix and the situation can quickly go from precarious to disastrous. Here are some tips for how to make the holidays go smoothly when you’re dealing with restructured families.
Plan everything in advance
Don’t assume that just because you had the kids on Christmas Eve last year you will have them again this year. Last year the divorce was pending; this year you have a court-approved schedule for your time with the children. Even if you have been loose about following the orders, make sure that you and your ex are on the same page about when the children will be with each of you. If you have specific requests for schedule changes to accommodate visiting family, get them on the calendar early so everyone knows what to expect. No one likes surprises, so err on the side of communication.
Plan how you will spend time with your children, as well. The last thing you want is to be sitting around the TV eating frozen dinners on Thanksgiving because you didn’t make other plans. Things are not going to be how they have been in the past, so don’t pretend that they will. And if things are going to be different, then why not make them different in a way everyone enjoys? Visit family members who live in cool places; go to cool places where you have no family members; go camping if you don’t have the time or money for a long trip; have a camp-out in the living room … do anything that feels different and fun. Include children in the planning so everyone gets excited about a new adventure
Be present with your children
Christmas Eve is not the time to introduce the children to your new romantic partner or announce your engagement to remarry. It is the time to enjoy your children’s excitement about the day ahead. Put your full attention on your children, at least for a day, without distractions.
Help your children with gifts for their other parent
Helping the children find supplies to draw Dad a card or make flowers out of tissues for Mom will buy you good will with that parent far into the future. Encourage kids to think about what Mom or Dad would really like and give them “gift certificates” for future car washes or foot massages. If you have more financial resources than the other parent, find gifts the children can give him or her (new dryer or once-a-month housecleaning) that will make life easier in that household.
Be easy to get along with
Let go of the things that aren’t that important. Be flexible with plans. Be the kind of parent you would want to deal with, even if your co-parent doesn’t reciprocate. The reason? It makes you feel better and it earns you the respect of your children. Relationships take a downward spiral when divorced parents start doing things based on things like payback for last Christmas rather than the joy of the present experience.
Create a family of choice
Who says “family” consists only people you’re related to by blood or marriage? Create your own circle of close friends to include in your holiday plans. Be sure this family includes kids, though, so it’s also your children’s family of choice.
Remember that there’s no competition
You do your holidays and let your co-parent do his or hers. As long as your children are engaged with you, they will have fun and you will create memories you will cherish for a lifetime. Will your living room camp-out be different than the other parent’s ski vacation? Of course it will. Will it be less fun or rewarding? Not if it’s done with enthusiasm and joy.
Sometimes we don’t have any choice about how things happen in our lives, but for the most part we do. If you remember that you always have choices during the holidays, life as a divorced parent will be easier. Choose to be 100% present with your children. Choose to be kind and considerate. Choose to build goodwill for the future. The rewards will serve you well for this holiday season and many more to come.