The holidays are here, but what if you’re in no mood for cheer? If you’ve recently split from a partner or spouse, the season may hit differently this year. Plus, when there are children involved, those feelings may be magnified as you try to keep holiday traditions alive.
Before holiday stress sets in, take time to think about what strategies will be helpful for every family member. First and foremost, “Newly divorced parents should work very hard to focus on the needs of the children,” says psychiatrist Dr. Aron S. Wolf, Senior Mental Health Consultant at Teladoc Health.
Here are 10 more expert tips for finding joy and happiness in your changing family this season.
1. Extend an olive branch
Think of the sacrifice of politeness, or even friendliness, as the ultimate present for your children and yourself. For this month, try to work with your ex and set the difficulties aside. As long as it’s not an abusive situation or dangerous to do so, meet the challenge of shared holiday events and time together with a positive attitude.
2. 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 sad or angry and that you’re having some of these feelings too. Be honest about what will be different this year, and what will be the same. Listen to their concerns and help them process this experience through open communication and encouragement.
3. Keep existing traditions and create new ones
Traditions are important for family bonding, and this type of engagement plays a role in child development.1 “If the divorce isn’t too bitter, the parents might agree that the non-resident parent be included in some aspect of prior traditions such as the opening of presents,” says Dr. Wolf. You and your ex can also start new, separate traditions with your kids.
4. Be proactive about plans
Don’t “play it by ear” with plans this year even if that’s how your family has approached holidays in the past. Lay out all plans and expectations ahead of time. Agree on all arrangements, dates and times so everyone has a real chance of executing on plans with success. Miscommunication can bring negativity and confusion instead of positivity and security.
5. Get support
The holidays are the perfect time to lean into the love of other family members and close friends. Having a support system can help you find joy and stay positive for the kids. Don’t be afraid to reach out and reconnect, involving these loved ones in your celebrations.
Dr. Wolf recommends getting help from a Teladoc therapist as well, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
6. Give the gifts that matter
Sometimes, parents compete for the love and affection of their kids through lavish gifts. This sends the wrong message. Don’t go overboard, especially if you’re feeling the financial strain of a new living situation.
Your love and support is the most important thing right now. Consider homemade or low-budget gifts that focus on spending time together.
7. 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 time and outlets 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 self-care.
- Feed your soul with rest, fun and hobbies.
- Eat healthily, exercise and avoid overindulging so you can put your best self forward.
8. Say “no” to the negative
Family gatherings and happy hours can be perfect opportunities to vent about the split. However, focusing on the negative means living in the past or the future instead of enjoying the present. While sympathetic ears may help you cope, take the “high road” of positivity instead. Your children and friends will follow your lead.
9. Put off major decisions
If your separation is reaching a boiling point, take a break over the holidays to let things settle. If you’re at a decision point about custody or finances, pause until the new year. A pause will help give you the strength to handle the busy holiday season.
10. Confront the loss
There is a belief that the holiday period is one of “happiness, good cheer and togetherness,” says Dr. Wolf. Constant reminders in advertising, social media and past memories don’t help the matter. But seeking this ideal can be very stressful to those going through a separation or divorce. “This is not only a loss of family members, who may now be living elsewhere, it’s a loss of traditions,” 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 situation, you can lead your loved ones toward peace.
How Teladoc can help
Recently separated partners are no strangers to loss, isolation and sadness. “If these times become overwhelming, reach out for professional help,” Dr. Wolf advises.
Teladoc offers online therapy services on your schedule. U.S. board-certified therapists and psychiatrists are available by phone or video. You can schedule a visit seven days a week.
Reducing your stress, in general, can make for a more fulfilling holiday. Check out our expert tips.
Updated November 8, 2021.