As stores bring out their holiday merchandise and kids start to make their lists and craft their costumes, divorcing parents can feel more overwhelmed than ever. This is particularly true if you have recently filed for divorce and are "winging it" while you try to agree on a parenting plan. How can you help your children stay happy during a time of changing traditions?
We won't sugar coat it: This time of year - particularly this first time - is going to be hard. Yet, you can take steps now to make the process less scary for you and your children. Here are some things to consider:
1. Sit Down and Make a Plan
Who will take the kids trick-or-treating? Who will have them on Thanksgiving? During Hanukkah? Christmas? These are decisions to make now, rather than wait until the last minute. If you can, sit down with your ex and detail out a plan. Many parents choose to split the holidays evenly, allowing the child to be with mom in the morning and dad in the afternoon. Others choose to split vacation days down the middle in order to avoid frequent hand-offs. Still others keep the same traditions and "tough it out" for their children. Consider your children and what is best for them in the long run.
During your discussion, lay some ground rules about how you will interact with each other and the children. Agree that you won't badmouth the other parent, have a gift war or otherwise make the holidays more uncomfortable for your children.
Of course, this meet-and-plan approach won't work for every couple, particularly if there is a power imbalance or you simply cannot agree. An attorney can step in to help you negotiate a schedule. Mediation can also be a useful tool for some couples.
2. Talk to Your Children
Your children will have plenty of emotions and questions. Opening up that dialogue is important. Reassure them that their holidays will continue, even if they may be different. Give them a chance to tell you what they'd like to do. Watch your children and try to anticipate what they are thinking. Give them the chance to talk and remind them frequently of how much their parents love them.
3. Create New Traditions
Life is changing, and so will some of your traditions. Many parents decide to create their own traditions to give their children new things to look forward to. Maybe you've never been to the local light show or community Halloween event. This is a great year to start! That said, now is not the time to replace all of the traditions your children have grown to love and expect. It is a mistake to assume that everything can and should be different. Instead, consider which traditions are most important to your children and what routines you can retain.
4. Take Care of Yourself
In the midst of the chaos, it's important for you to think about yourself, too. You are likely going through many different emotions ranging from sadness and loneliness (after all, your traditions are changing, too) to guilt. The best advice that psychologists have to offer on this subject is to reach out to your support system and give yourself a break. Try to accept that things will not be perfect. If you can, find some "me" time to do something that you love, whether that's a massage, going to a game or simply reading a book.
Remember: Many other people have been here before. You will get through this time and it will get easier. In the meantime, consider seeking the help of professionals (legal, psychological, etc.) to make the transition as smooth as possible.