Holiday magic is often lost on “grown-ups” as we lose ourselves in the stressful minutiae of planning: extreme couponing for the highly desired and increasingly unavailable toy of the season, remembering to set the turkey out to thaw, forgetting to buy the stocking stuffers — again, and let’s not even talk about the credit-card anxiety that awaits.
Children, on the other hand, are free from these burdens, leaving them unencumbered to revel in the season. Their experiences are magical during this time of year, and we are grounded by watching our children’s faces light up. We do everything we can to evoke that wonder in our kids, but it isn’t always easy, especially following divorce.
“The pressures of the past and uncertainty of moving on after divorce often complicate just how to (handle) this virgin territory of new holiday traditions,” said Karen Bonnell, author of The Co-Parenting Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted and Resilient Kids from Little Ones to Young Adults through Divorce or Separation. Luckily, Bonnell has some tips on how to work with your co-parent to make the holiday season as magical as possible for your children.
Keep it simple
This is the year to keep your plans manageable. A few simple, well-executed holiday experiences are far better than trying to do it all and becoming a stress-case. Know your limits both physically and emotionally. If you can invite your co-parent to help hang stockings on Christmas Eve without a descent into grief or drama, then invite away.
Know that too much family isn’t good for kids
Planned and book-ended full-family time helps kids continue their work of accepting their two-home family (while also spending quality time with each parent separately). This is the best of both worlds because kids get their parents for special moments, events, and meals without bargaining, scheming, or fruitlessly hoping everyone will get back together again. An hour or two for Santa gifts and a glass of orange juice with a muffin is plenty.
Family friends often help create the bridge
It might be a good idea if both you and your co-parent attend a holiday dinner as guests at a family friend’s home where familiarity prevails, and the freedom to participate is softened by the joint effort of other adults and kids. Being with a group outside the family home helps mitigate the empty chair normally filled by a missing parent during those first couple holiday meals.
Be a good host or an appreciative guest
If you’re hosting a first-night Hanukkah candle lighting at your home this year, invite your co-parent to participate if you like. Wait until you hear back before telling the children. No need to disappoint them if (the other parent) won’t be attending. If you’re the co-parent attending, bring a simple hostess gift, be respectful, offer to assist when appropriate, and be appreciative as you say your good-byes.
Provide opportunities for special holiday time
Kids adjust and thrive in two-home families where parents maintain separation and respect. Be generous with your co-parent. Offer additional time that enhances opportunities for them with the kids without disadvantaging your holiday celebrations. Keep transitions easy and stress-free.
Restructuring a family involves grief that emerges throughout all those firsts the year after separation. Anticipate the need for gentle acknowledging, a few tears, and an eventual return to the confidence that you’ll all get through this and have special family time once again in time to experience the magic of the holidays.