Coping with the holidays as a separated parent

There's a lot of advice out there for separated and divorced parents, about how to survive the holiday period. The following tips (reprinted from family law website are some tried and true ways to ensure that both you and your children can still enjoy your time together, and - equally importantly -  that you are able to manage your time away from them.

TIP NUMBER 1: Be ‘CHILD-CENTRIC’ at all times.

Your kids get one childhood and that is it! In the big scheme of life, we all know that childhood is fleeting. You, as the parent, have a great deal of influence over the type of childhood experience your child receives, so don’t screw it up. Your child’s needs come first. Always ask yourself what will Suzy (insert your child’s name here) benefit from the most? What will create happy holiday memories for him/her? Put yourself in your children’s shoes when answering these questions. Follow the answers and you will be placing your child’s needs first. And yes, this may mean allowing your child to pick out a gift for the other parent at your expense.

TIP NUMBER 2: Be Flexible.

Remember your children are growing and as they grow, his/her needs will change as well. A holiday parenting time schedule created when your daughter was five years old may not be right for her when she is fifteen. If your judgment of divorce calls for equal parenting time over the summer break and holidays, remember the mathematical equality might not be perfect for your child every year of their life until they reach 18 years of age. Therefore, by way of example, if your spouse has tickets to the Nutcracker and the performance happens to fall on your parenting time and your daughter loves the ballet; being ‘child-centric’, I am sure you will understand the value of allowing her to go to the show!

TIP NUMBER 3: Share your children with your ex-spouse.

Although this may not always be possible, young children want nothing more than to spend time with both of their parents – AT THE SAME TIME! This could not be truer than during the holidays. If you can stomach it, try to include your ex in one of your side of the families’ events or plan a small outing for just you, your ex and the children. The event could be as simple as going to a family movie. I like the movie idea because it does not allow a lot of interaction, but it does provide togetherness for your kids. Have the children sit in the middle!

TIP NUMBER 4: Start a new family tradition.

After divorce, your children also start a new chapter in their lives. Starting a new tradition with your kids may help to ease the loss they may feel as a result of their parents’ separation. Here is a list of ideas for new traditions that you can share with your children every year as they grow:

- Volunteer for a local charity.
- Buy gifts for families in need.
- Make special decorations for the holiday.
- Make special gifts by hand.
- Start a cookie exchange.
- Read a special holiday book.
- Create a ‘Grateful Journal’ that you write in every year.
- Have a special holiday themed meal – i.e. food from a different country every year.
- Take a family outing
- Check out the holiday lights.
- Take a family trip.

TIP NUMBER 5: Fake it till you make it.

Again, if you are being ‘child-centric’, the holidays are the worst time to utter even one negative comment about the other parent or his/her family. You may not be able to control your ex, but you certainly can control your own actions. I am sure a lot of you are divorced parents because of the fact that you have been wronged by your ex. That is where the ‘faking it’ comes in. You may have to ‘fake it’ to shelf your feelings and say nice things about your children’s other parent and/or family. Your children do not need to know how bad you will miss them or that you cry when they leave. Instead, they should be told how much fun they will have with their other parent and his/her family. Try to think of one special event that you know will occur while they are with the other side of their family and share it with your kids before they leave.

TIP NUMBER 6: Communicate with your ex in advance.

Planning ahead for the holidays is very important to ensure that the holidays go smoothly for your family. It may also save you from scrambling to court last minute to enforce a holiday parenting time agreement. Your goal, of course, is to stay out of court. Therefore, try to make a plan with your ex husband/wife several weeks or even months before the holidays are here. If necessary, confirm your plans in writing. Never use your children as a go-between to determine the plan. Actually, making the schedule should never be your children’s responsibility.

TIP NUMBER 7: Be Nice to Yourself.

For many of you, the time away from your children during the holidays is devastating. It can feel terribly wrong and unfair. But remember, the better you feel, the better off you and your children will be, so here are some ideas for you to fill the ‘kid void’ during their absence:

- Make sure you plan events with friends and family that make you feel good about yourself. Give yourself permission to skip the invitations that will bring you down. You are in control of your life and therefore you have the right to set healthy boundaries for yourself with others.
- If you are going to counselling, use the time with your counsellor to help deal with the overwhelming emotions you may feel during the holiday season. It is okay to be angry or sad; the goal is not to let your feelings negatively impact your children.
- Give yourself time to do activities you enjoy.
- Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercise and by eating well.
- Try a new activity or hobby.
- Pamper yourself.

I wish you and your family a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

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