In Family Law

If you’re going through a divorce or were recently divorced, dealing with the holidays can be difficult, depressing and may make you feel like hiding instead of celebrating. The fact is, during the holiday season all our emotions seem to be on overdrive. And ending a marriage certainly doesn’t help.

Three things to Keep in Mind and Three Pitfalls to Avoid this Holiday,

Just like the beginning of a marriage, the end of one impacts almost every aspect of your life. Married life has been your normal. Now you have to cope with the end, or at least, changing relationship with some of the very people you were closest to–namely your ex-spouse and his family. Here are three things to keep in mind that may make it easier to deal with this new normal:

  1. There was, and always will be, more to life than marriage.

Parting from your spouse doesn’t mean you’re alone. You’re still part of your original family unit as well as a network of friends and colleagues. Plus, you are the center of your children’s world. Concentrating on people who know and love you can help keep you grounded and connected to your own sense of self.  You may no longer be part of a couple, but you still are a whole, vital and valuable person.

  1. Making others happy – particularly your children – can help you be happy, too.

For many of us the best part of the holiday season is seeing the joy it gives our children and other loved ones.  Whether you’re separated or actually divorced, that should still be true. So, make creating a sense of gladness for your children, your family members and your friends the first priority on your holiday gift list.

  1. Plan ahead but be flexible.

When you’re dealing with other people–especially children–who have certain expectations of the season, developing and sharing a plan for the holiday is essential for managing these expectations. If a better idea comes up, for instance, someone offers a last-minute invitation to a party, you can always adjust your plans. You might also have a Plan B in case of bad weather.  For example, get a movie from the library to have ready for an impromptu show at home if a snow storm cancels a big night out. While you’re at it, make sure to have a couple packs of microwave popcorn handy as well.

 

Three Holiday Pitfalls to Avoid.

There are three special areas that seem particularly challenging at this time of year–managing money effectively, making arrangements on where and with whom the kids will spend their holidays and what to say and how to act with friends and family when you’re no longer part of a couple.  We have some suggestions on how to deal with these issues that will make them easier and less stressful.

 

Pitfall 1: Spending More Money Than You Should.

Divorce always involves a readjustment of income for both parties.  Whatever settlement a couple makes, keeping expenses down is always a good strategy – especially during the holidays.

Unfortunately, there may be a certain temptation to show your love by giving gifts that dig too deeply into your finances.  Yet, the best gift we can give during the holidays–or any other time–is love, attention, respect and emotional support.  To that end, here are some practical suggestions to help you spend less but give more.

  • Make a holiday budget.

Determine just how much you can afford to spend on gifts and then make up your gift list accordingly.  If you’re making gifts–knitting sweaters, baking treats, etc.–make sure to include the cost of supplies in your budget.

Many of us socialize more during the holidays than we normally do, and we may spend more than we anticipate because of it. Dinners out with old friends. A flight to visit distant family members. Bottles of wine and candy for the hostess when you’re invited out. All can deplete our bank accounts before we know it.  So, decide how much you can afford to spend beforehand. Then stick to your budget.  Your New Year will be a lot brighter if you can avoid extra debts from the year before.

  • Give necessities as presents.

For kids, much of the enjoyment of the holiday is engendered by the gifts they anticipate finding under the tree on Christmas morning or getting during Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.  But if you’re trying to stay on a tight budget, the number of gifts you can give may take a hit. Fortunately, new clothes for school or play seem more exciting when they’re holiday gifts. You’ll be able to get kids what they need AND they’ll have the fun of unwrapping these gifts.

  • Turn shopping for gifts into a gift.

You can also “give” your kids a shopping trip to buy their own presents. If you take your trip after the holidays, you can take advantage of after-Christmas sales to make the money go farther. Make the day into a sort of treasure hunt with the purchases the treasure. Tell the kids how much they can spend and then help them focus on finding particular items they can pick out themselves. They’ll find that buying something they like within the boundaries of a budget can be immensely rewarding.  (That’s why grownups brag about their latest purchase on Amazon or Ebay!) Showing off this skill to a parent makes it all the more enjoyable.  And don’t forget to take the kids for a lunch break at a favorite restaurant to add to the fun.

  • Give gifts that reflect how well you know a friend or family member.

This doesn’t take a lot of money but it does require knowing who you’re buying for.  Your gift might be a paperback by their favorite mystery writer. Tickets to a local theatre performance. Supplies for their favorite craft or sport.  The idea is to show how much you care, even on a limited budget.

  • Include something special for yourself on your gift list.

Maybe it’s a trip to an upscale salon or a new accessory. Celebrate yourself this holiday–you deserve it.

 

Pitfall 2:  Dealing with the Children

For many, the best part of the holiday season is seeing the joy it gives their children.  Yet for divorced parents who live in different parts of the country or even just separate households, this can be difficult if not impossible. However, with a little effort you should be able to come up with a plan that will ensure a happy holiday for everyone.

 

  • Rethink the holiday celebration calendar

Traditionally, the two days most people are concerned about are Christmas and Christmas Eve. But what if you follow the ancient British tradition and celebrate Christmas for 12 days instead of just two?  By this calendar, children can spend the Christmas holiday with EACH parent for several days.

Since the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah lasts nine days and the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa is celebrated the whole week, children can celebrate with one parent the first half of the holiday and join the other parent for the second half.

  • Set new traditions instead of mourning old ones.

One of the most devastating parts of the holidays when you’re just divorced or going through one is ending traditions that once anchored your life. For example, you always decorated the tree or lit the menorah together.  The whole family went to your in-laws for Christmas Eve and then to your folks on Christmas morning.  Far away relatives came to your house for the holidays. And so on.

Obviously, things are going to change. Plan an overnight trip with the kids for the holidays or visit your relatives in a different town. If your spouse wants to have the kids for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, take the opportunity to celebrate with your own relatives or special friends. Maybe go skiing, take a cruise or just get away to someplace you’ve never been before but have always wanted to see.  The point is, recognize that letting go of one activity leaves you free to do another that may be just as enjoyable.

  • Manage expectations.

Sometimes surprises are fun for kids. But when their whole life has been disrupted by a divorce, consistency and security are valued more than a momentary thrill.  Make your ex-spouse, your kids and other family members, such as grandparents on both sides, aware of what you want to do and when and where you want to do it. Get the kids to buy-in to adult intentions as soon as possible. Let them feel that they have some control over this area of their lives.  Be open and willing to compromise a bit if you have to.  But letting family members–kids, as well the adults on both sides of the family–know your intentions up front is a good way to prevent misunderstandings and to resolve conflicts before they start.

  • Have a communications plan.

If the family will be scattered during the holidays, agree upon ways to communicate. You may want to set up a skype call at a certain time. Or just text each other spontaneously during the holiday. But be respectful of other people’s time and the anxiety you can cause by forgetting to make a promised phone call to kids and parents who are counting on hearing from you.

 

Pitfall 3: Dealing with Family and Old Friends in Your New Normal.

Divorce doesn’t just end one relationship in your life. It can also be the end of the closeness you’ve had with your in-laws, your spouse’s old friends and the friendships you developed as a couple. This can’t be helped.  It’s just the way it is.  Your spouse’s family will understandably support them in any dispute. So will their old friends – and so may the friends you thought you were equally close to. Here are some suggestions to soften the blow:

  • Don’t ask anyone to take sides.

People will either be sympathetic and supportive or they won’t be. Trying to convert them to “your side” is pointless. Let them figure out who they want to continue having a relationship with or not. Welcome those who stay your friends and avoid burdening them with grievances against your ex. Forgive those who maintain a friendship with your ex and drop you. Life is a journey and your paths may cross again. When they do, treasure the good times and put the rest aside.

  • Expand your network during the holidays.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, businesses and associations sponsor holiday parties that are ideal places to meet peers and to make new friends. The same is true of social and religious organizations. If you’d like to make new contacts, these parties are ideal venues in which to do so. Take business cards and follow up with people who you’d like to see again, for professional reasons or just because you enjoyed talking with them.

  • Volunteer for holiday activities.

Another great way to meet new people is to join volunteer efforts to wrap presents for the poor, work in a food pantry or soup kitchen, join a carol group through your church or other organization. Groups like the Rotary are always looking for new members and were created to help people connect with each other while serving the local community.

 

One Last Thing: Keep the Spirit of the Season Alive in Every Way You Can.

Even if your marriage ended unhappily, it was a major part of your life’s experience. And if you have children, you will probably continue to have some interaction with your ex for the rest of your children’s lives. Whether you observe the holidays as a religious celebration or not, the spirit of the season is still one of altruism, hope, generosity and understanding. Try to keep that in mind whenever you interact with your ex-partner, their relatives or anyone else in your life who is less than positive.

 

Resources

Nahirny, J., “Happier Holidays During and After Divorce”, Divorce Magazines, July 19, 2019 https://www.divorcemag.com/articles/happier-holidays

Emery, Robert, PhD, “Managing Divorce and Children During the Holidays, “Dec., 2008, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/divorced-children/200812/managing-divorce-and-children-during-the-holidays

LifeSpan, “Dealing with Divorce During the Holidays, Bradley Hospital, https://www.bradleyhospital.org/dealing-divorce-during-holidays

Avery, A, MA, LPC, NCC, “ 7 Ways to Survive the Holidays During a Divorce”, Good Therapy, https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/7-ways-to-survive-the-holidays-during-divorce-1216155

 

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