Article by Alexis Hall
Around 4 million divorced parents live in the United States, and around 20 percent (814,000) of them became divorced in the last year. That means that this holiday season will be their first time facing the challenges of negotiating holiday schedules, conflicts over gifts, and other woes of being newly divorced during the holidays. While navigating the holiday season as a newly divorced parent won’t be a cakewalk, you can keep your holiday spirit while also keeping your mental health in check by following some tips.
Try to remember that your kids should never be placed in the middle of the issues you and your ex-spouse have. How you handle the holidays with your ex will greatly affect how much enjoyment your child has during the holidays, and how you handle your ex can be an example to your child on how to handle conflict, stress, and anger. Never ask your child to choose which parent she would rather spend time with. Start communicating with your ex well before the festivities begin to find a fair way to split time. This will cut down on the stress and give you time to prepare for the new adjustment.
If you don’t get to spend the actual day of the holiday with your child, don’t worry. You can have just as much fun on the days near the holiday. Thanksgiving can be celebrated on Tuesday or Saturday, and Christmas can be enjoyed on December 21 or December 30. What matters is that you’re celebrating with your child and spending time together, so focus on that.
Just because you’re apart from your child on the day of the actual holiday doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with her. To lift your spirits, send a nice text message and arrange for a phone call or Skype call. Be careful not to spend too much time on the call; you don’t want to infringe too much on your ex’s time with your child. When talking to your child, keep it upbeat and don’t say anything negative about your ex.
Use your ex’s day with your child to your advantage. Do something that makes you happy and/or relaxed during your child-free time. Call up a friend for coffee, enjoy a day at the spa, or soak in a soothing bath in your own home. Consider a mental health day. Do something that’s not part of your normal routine. For example, if you’re known for binging shows on Netflix, do something different so that you actually recharge. Get outside, see a show, or try something new. To keep stress low throughout the holiday season, be sure to follow a healthy diet and exercise regimen.
Taking a day (or more) for yourself to recharge is especially important during the holidays when you’re more likely to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs at the exact same time every year, usually in the winter months. Symptoms of SAD include the normal symptoms of depression (loss of hope and self-worth, fatigue, sleep issues, etc.), but can lead to more serious issues like addiction. Additionally, you may experience cravings for sugary or starchy foods, extreme sleepiness during the day, difficulty waking up, overeating, and avoidance of family and friends.
Children love routines and rituals, so try to keep some family traditions going. You’ll likely enjoy keeping them too. Ask your child what is really important to her. Maybe baking cookies with mom or choosing a tree with dad are rituals that can continue. If some traditions can’t continue or you can’t be apart of some of them (like if she chooses the tree with one of you), create a new tradition for just the two of you. Take her ice skating, go look at Christmas lights, or volunteer at a soup kitchen.
Remember that attitude is everything. If you anticipate that the holidays will be disappointing, they probably will be. Try to stay positive and remember the true meaning of the holidays. Put your child first and focus on making the holidays enjoyable for her, but don’t forget to make time for yourself too. Although the divorce means this holiday season may be very different ones in the past, it doesn’t have to be an end to your holiday spirit or ability to enjoy the holidays.