The holiday season is about family, but what do you do when that family no longer looks the way it used to? Divorce, no matter the circumstances, causes a major shift in family dynamics that impacts everyone involved. And the holidays, however well-meaning they are, have a way of bringing that reality front and center. 

As if you don’t have enough going on already, now you have to figure out how to survive the holidays as a parent post-divorce. Clients frequently come to me wanting the best for their children but also struggling with their own emotions. Here is what I tell them about surviving the holidays as a divorced parent:

Be Open With Yourself and Your Kids

It is ok to be struggling with all the changes that are happening right now, you don’t need to pretend that everything is fine. Allow yourself to admit that things are difficult, but also acknowledge they are not impossible. Talk to your children about what they are feeling. Tell them it is ok to be sad. Share with each other about the difficult things and work together to find the positives. 

Start New Traditions

Trying to continue through the holidays as if nothing has happened is likely going to bring up more unpleasantness. Instead, let go of old traditions and talk to your children about making new ones. What are some things they want to do? Maybe instead of holding a fancy holiday party, you and your kids have a movie night complete with hot cocoa and cookies. Or maybe instead of a formal family picture on your holiday card, you do a funny card instead—dress up in holiday PJs, ugly sweaters, or wear funny hats. 

By involving your children in the tradition-making process you are making the holidays about them. You are also hearing them out, validating their feelings, and allowing them to take some ownership of their new normal. 

Boundaries Boundaries Boundaries…

Communicate with friends, family, and your ex (if he/she is still in the picture) about what you will and will not do. Allow yourself to say “no.” Maybe you don’t want to attend Aunt Erma’s Christmas dinner or do a gift exchange with your ex’s siblings, or maybe you don’t have the energy for your friend’s cookie exchange. You don’t need to overextend yourself trying to please everyone. This time is about you and your children adjusting to a new normal. Health (and sanity) are a top priority. 

If there are certain topics you don’t want to discuss over the dinner table, share them with your family ahead of time. Making your family and friends aware of your wishes can help them to be more sensitive to your needs.

Focus On Your Kids 

What your children need most right now is support from you. They need a safe place where they can turn. They might need some extra mental health support as well, in which case seeking the help of a licensed professional could be beneficial. 

Involve them in your decisions. Ask them what they are comfortable doing? Who do they want to spend the holidays with? Is there an event they want to skip? 

Practice Self-Care

The best thing you can do for your family is to take care of yourself. Get a healthy amount of sleep (7-8 hours a night), practice healthy eating habits, avoid overindulging in alcohol. Turn to the things that make you feel like your best self — exercise, bubble baths, hobbies, or a good book. 

Avoid negative self-talk. It can be so easy to get down on yourself, to feel guilty about things. Nip those habits in the butt. Instead, practice gratitude. Start a gratitude journal. Write down a few things every night that you are thankful for—the smallest of things can still have a big impact. 

Surround Yourself In Support 

Spend your time with the people in your life who make you feel good. Now is not the time to waste your energy on toxic people. Lean on your friends and family and get the help you need to sort through emotions. Regular meetings with a mental health professional can teach you healthy coping skills and cheer you on in your positive choices. 

It can be tempting to spend your evenings cooped up surrounded in old photographs or crying over romantic comedies and while some of that is ok, social events can also be beneficial. Maybe you don’t feel like going out, instead have your friends over for a movie night. 

And lastly, give yourself some grace. As I said before, this time is difficult but not impossible. Forgive yourself. Find the joy in the little moments. Create your new normal

Until the next Opening the Doors post.

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