The divorce was hard. It has opened new challenges: more to offer up, an opportunity to extend mercy and forgiveness, lessons in overcoming pain. Maybe you have settled into the new normal fairly well. Maybe every day is a struggle.
Christmas can reopen wounds and make divorced people feel even more lonely. Parenting challenges become emotionally charged and we can regress into places we thought we had moved away from. Some simple tips can help manage this complicated season of parenting.
Remember that Christmas is not a competition. In an effort to normalize the holidays for children, or overcompensate for a sense of loss, divorced parents can fall into trying to outdo each other. The reality is that no one “wins” this kind of competition. In the long run the kids will remember the feelings and actions of the Christmas season, not the gifts. Kids are very intuitive and they may also use the parent’s gift guilt to obtain presents that they would have never received before the divorce. Consider how you will feel about the decisions you make during the holidays when you look back in January.
Embrace two celebrations. It is so painful to be away from your children at Christmas, especially when you may already be grieving Christmases past and the way things used to be. Confide those feelings to a good friend, priest, or counselor in private. Allow your kids to be happy with whichever parent gets to spend the holiday with them. Help them see they are doubly blessed to celebrate Jesus’ birth and the joy of Christmas with both parents individually. Keep the focus on Christ and the meaning of the incarnation and salvation. Encourage the children to practice forgiveness if they have been hurt in the divorce.
Communicate with your ex as much as possible. Speaking with your ex-spouse may be difficult or painful, do it anyway. If the two of you can’t communicate without a fight, bring in a third party to help negotiate how to handle holiday visitation, gift-giving, and even Christmas Mass attendance.
Enjoy your time away from the kids. Sounds counter-intuitive, but you can use the time the kids are with the other parent to shop, clean, have time with your friends, or even cry! Take the time to grieve away from the children so that you can be mindful that they are also struggling with how different Christmas may be.
Be honest. While parents should not bash each other (no matter what the other parent has done) it is okay to have honest conversations with your kids about how you are all feeling. Try to use open-ended questions such as, “This is sure different than last year. I’m feeling a little sad, how are you feeling?” Then listen. Let your kids express their feelings without judgement or stoking their anger.
Start new traditions. Things are different, but starting new traditions can help the whole family recover. Try having turkey on New Year’s Day, helping at a soup kitchen, or celebrating gifts on the Epiphany (when the three Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus).
Get support for yourself. Divorce is incredibly difficult. Find people who can listen to you and give you support as needed. This is not the role of your children. Just because they have experienced the same event does not mean they have had the same experience!
Copyright 2018 Mary Lou Rosien