For those who are newly separated or divorced, you may be dreading the winter holidays this year. This is especially true for parents who will be spending their first holidays without their children with them.
There are may potential minefields — holiday parties where you might run into your ex with a new paramour, waking up on the big day with no kids squealing to open gifts and too many opportunities to overindulge on holiday cheer. But before you get so discouraged that you crawl under the covers to sleep through the whole thing, look at things from a different perspective.
Start your own new traditions
If the kids are with your ex this year, flip the script. Take a cruise, head to the mountains for a ski vacation, book a beach rental and work on your tan. Whatever you decide, make it something different and fun so you are sure to enjoy yourself.
Just say “no” to conflict
While your ex may be the biggest jerk who ever drew a breath, the bottom line is that it takes two to sustain an argument. If the two of you must interact to manage custody exchanges, keep the interactions to a minimum and solely focused on the kids’ arrangements. Don’t get baited into another argument. One of the benefits of divorce is being able to walk away from your ex when they are spoiling for a fight.
Make plans, but remain flexible
Use your parenting plan/custody order as the blueprint for holiday custody scheduling. With that being said, don’t be so rigid that there is no wiggle room. Kids get sick, days off get canceled and unforeseen events crop up. Remember that while it might be your ex this time who pleads for a last-minute switch of the custody agreements, next time it could also be you.
Keep the kids in the loop
This applies to even younger children. Kids crave stability and security, and sudden changes can be disorienting and upsetting. Help the wee ones design clearly marked calendars with the times they will be with each parent outlined. Then, gently remind them in the days leading up to a custody switch that a change is coming. That way they have time to mentally and emotionally prepare themselves.
Maintain some favorite traditions
If the extended family always gathered for Hanukkah to spin the dreidel and light the menorah, don’t deprive your kids of these activities. Even if your own heart is in the basement this holiday season, remember that children find this time of year to be magical.
Be kind to yourself
This is perhaps the most important tip of all. You’re fragile now, so be gentle with yourself. It’s all right if you can’t summon the energy to sing carols or bake cookies. Do what you can and don’t worry about what is left undone.
If you are very depressed, you may need a little help to get back on track. Ask your primary care physician or your Sarasota family law attorney for a referral for some short-term counseling to get you over the grimmest days.