The happiest of holidays are here, but what if you’re in no mood for cheer? If you’ve recently split from a partner or spouse, you’re not just unlucky in love, you’re probably filled with dread about the festivities ahead. Plus, when there are children involved, there must be an awareness of their loss and an intention to keep holiday traditions alive.
Before you’re knee deep in holiday tension and turmoil, take some time to consider what strategies will be helpful for every family member, and where you can find support during this tough time. First and foremost, “Newly divorced parents should work very hard to focus on the needs of the children,” says Dr. Aron S. Wolf, Senior Behavioral Consultant at Teladoc Health.
Here are 10 tips for finding joy and happiness in your evolving family this season.
- Extend an olive branch.
In the spirit of giving, consider sharing the hardest gift of all: peace. Think of the sacrifice of civility—or even friendliness—as the ultimate present for your children and even yourself. For this month, try to work collaboratively with your ex and set the difficulties aside. Meet the challenge of shared holiday events and time together with positivity and resolve.
- Talk and listen, listen and talk.
Your children did not hope for this new family arrangement; they’re stuck with it. A loss or split will bring up all kinds of new emotions for them. Tell your kids that you can understand if they’re upset (or sad or angry), and that you’re having some of these feelings, too. Be upfront about the way the holidays will change this year, and what things will remain the same. Listen to their concerns and help them process this experience through open communication and encouragement.
- Keep traditions and create new ones.
“If the divorce isn’t too rancorous, the parents might agree that the non-resident parent be included in some aspect of prior family traditions such as the opening of presents,” advises Dr. Wolf. Psychologically, traditions play an important role in child development and strengthen attachments.1 Each parent could also start a new tradition that sets apart new dimensions of the changing family structure.
- Be proactive about plans.
Even if you previously held a “loosey goosey” approach to the holiday schedule, this year, lay out all plans and expectations clearly. Make sure no detail—date, time, place—is left unturned. Agree on all arrangements so the family has a real chance of executing on plans with success. Miscommunication can bring negativity and confusion instead of positivity and security.
- Seek out support.
When a nuclear family is in crisis, there’s an opportunity to snuggle deep into the love of other family members and close friends. Extended family and support networks can deliver the joy and energy you need to sustain yourself and stay positive for the children. Don’t be afraid to reach out and reconnect, involving these important loved ones in your holiday preparations and celebrations. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, Dr. Wolf says, get professional help from a licensed Teladoc Health therapist.
- Give the gifts that matter.
It’s important that you do not try to overindulge your children with lavish gifts, especially if you’re feeling the financial hardships of a new living situation. Sometimes, parents compete for the love and affection of their kids through material goods. This sends the wrong message. Your love, support, and acceptance right now is most important, so consider homemade or low-budget gifts and presents that focus on time together.
- Take care of yourself.
During this huge life transition, pay attention to your own emotional, physical, and mental health needs, Dr. Wolf says. “Divorced or separated parents also need a time and venue to heal and deal with their own feelings.” Journal, talk to trusted friends or a therapist, and do the things that make you feel whole. Take time for regular breaks and feed your soul with rest, fun, and hobbies. Eat healthily, exercise, and avoid overindulging so you can put your best self forward in tough situations.
- Say “no” to the negative.
Family gatherings, fireside happy hours, and car trips to the shopping mall can be perfect opportunities to vent about your problems or a certain problematic ex. Focusing on the negative means living in the past or the future instead of reveling in the beauty of the present. While sympathetic ears may help you cope with struggles, instead take the “high road” of positivity. Your children and friends will take your cues.
- Put off major decisions.
If your separation is reaching a boiling point, take a break over the holidays and try to let things gently simmer. If you’re at a decision point about custody, financial arrangements, or legal help, pause until the New Year (or longer) so you have the strength to handle the season’s intense holiday demands.
- Confront the loss
There is a presumption that the holiday period is one of “happiness, good cheer, and togetherness,” says Dr. Wolf, perpetuated by constant reminders in advertising, social media, and even past memories. But seeking this ideal can be very stressful to those going through a separation or divorce. “This is not only a loss of one or more family members, who may now be living elsewhere, but it’s a loss of traditions that were important to the whole family,” Dr. Wolf says. Acknowledge the loss, and all of the struggles that go along with facing a new life. By working to accept your family’s new circumstances, you can be proactive about big and small decisions for easier coping and eventually fulfillment.
Recently separated partners are no strangers to loss, isolation, and sadness. “If these times become overwhelming, reach out for professional help,” Dr. Wolf advises.
Our U.S. board-certified Teladoc physicians and therapists are here to talk with you so the holidays can be a joy, not a burden. Reach out to us seven days a week to schedule an appointment at a time that’s convenient for you. Fully confidential help is here online, through our app, or by phone (800-TELADOC or 800-835-2362).
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