The holidays can be a challenge for any parent, but when you’re going through or recovering from divorce, it can be even harder. It’s hard not only on you, but also on your child, who wants to please both parents, and also secretly wishes those parents would reunite for the holidays “like they used to be.” Here are 10 tips for making the post-divorce holidays easier for the kids — and for you:
- Plan Ahead. Make a detailed holiday plan with your ex as far in advance as possible. Plot everything out on a calendar, including transfer times and who will be providing transportation during the post-divorce holidays. This will reduce any last minute negotiation, bickering, or disagreements, so that transfer can go smoothly. Kids pick up on a lot of tension at transfers and will enjoy their holidays much more if things are as calm as possible. It will also make your life much easier to know what the schedule is to the minute.
- Go Shopping. When you got divorced, you thought your days of shopping for your ex were over, but your child would probably like to be able to give the other parent a gift. If you can facilitate this, by helping your child shop for an inexpensive gift, or by helping your child make a card or gift, you’ll add to your child’s holiday experience.
- Pick Up the Phone. If your child is with you for a holiday, have him call the other parent. This helps your child stay connected during the post-divorce holidays, and is also, frankly, just the right thing to do. Even if your court order does not require phone contact on holidays, this can help your child feel more comfortable.
- Go with a Gag Order. Agree with your ex that you will not discuss anything other than the business at hand when you’re exchanging your child over the holidays. If there are things to be discussed about child support, alimony, future schedule changes, or issues you have with each other’s behavior, table them for a time when your child is not around. A holiday celebration that is preceded by parents arguing is not very joyous.
- Overschedule Yourself.If you won’t have your child with you, the post-divorce holidays will likely be hard for you. It’s okay to feel sad, but you can stay busy enough to distract yourself. Go to parties and events so you will have something to do. Don’t give yourself time to let sadness overcome you. Focus on how you will celebrate the next time you and your child are together.
- Schedule Meals. A kid who is overfed is often cranky. And the same goes for a hungry child. The holidays are a time of great celebration, but it’s also a time of year when people eat the weirdest things at the craziest hours. Dinner at noon? Sandwiches at 11 pm? Chinese food at midnight? Whatever your family’s plans, try to coordinate with your ex when your child will be eating next so that you don’t send a stuffed child to the other grandma’s Thanksgiving table or hand over a hungry kid at 6 pm who won’t be fed again until 8 pm.
- The Greatest Gift of All. With young kids, the greatest gift of all is a nap. It’s a gift you give yourself, your child, your ex, and all the family who will be around your child. It’s very, very hard to stay on schedule at this time of year, but try your best to get a nap in at naptime for your child. It might mean going a little late to a family party or leaving a little early, but it will be well worth it. Keep naptime in mind when you are scheduling holiday transfer times and schedule well around it whenever possible. With older kids, downtime is important. Think how tired you are after going to your own family’s events, then imagine you are your child who is going to yours and going to your ex’s as well.
- Lower Your Expectations. It is too easy to build up the importance of a holiday, so that anything short of a magical winter wonderland event will fall short. If you spend weeks fixating on how perfect you can make it, the big day will not measure up. It’s fun to look forward to the holidays, but don’t let it take over your life, or your child’s.
- More Is Not More. More gifts, more candy, more decorations, more celebrations will not heal your heart or your child’s. A gift may distract your child for a while, but it can’t change the situation of the post-divorce holidays. Resist the temptation to shower your child with gifts to try to make up for the divorce. If possible, talk with your ex about gift-giving so that it does not become a competition between the two of you.
- Embrace Tradition. It’s common for kids to want things to be exactly the same as they remember them, but in your family nothing can ever be exactly the same. Instead, you can take old traditions and fit them into your life in a new way. Keep things that are familiar and beloved, but build on them in new ways so that you can gradually create new traditions for your new family.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of he Divorce Organizer & Planner, How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest, The Complete Divorce Handbook, and The No-Fight Divorce Book: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation. Her web site is BretteSember.com and she blogs about divorce at SolveDivorce.com