Surviving and Thriving Divorce During the Holiday's – 7 Do’s and Don’ts

Holiday expectations can run high. Most of us want our Holiday’s to be perfect, let’s stop right there, they won’t be perfect even under normal circumstances, and we need to prepare ourselves for a less than perfect Holiday season. It’s important to keep expectations from turning into disappointments, especially if there are changes in your family. Here the 7 Do’s and Don'ts for Surviving and Thriving Divorce!

  • Do Plan Ahead for the Holiday Season.

  • Do Keep Traditions and add new ones too!

  • Do Manage Your “Alone Time.”

  • Don’t let you Emotions Get the Best of You.

  • Don’t let Gifting, Cards and Party Invites Get to You.

  • Don’ t Change the Co-parenting Plan, Unless you Both Agree

  • Do Survive, Thrive and Have Fun while Enjoying your Holiday

Do Plan Ahead for the Holiday Season

Always have a Plan B, to your Plan A. Over planning never hurts, and if you do need to adjust or change plans, it’s much less stressful.

So, do you know exactly where you will be spending your Holidays this year? If you are going through a divorce with minor children, your spouse may have the kids, and you may have to spend time driving to split the time. You may all still be living in the same home together, trying to host family, and making the best of what may be, a very awkward time! Don’t ignore the inevitable, the Holidays are coming, if you have kids, plan early, let them know what arrangements have been made. If there is a possibility that plans may change, the kids need to know, it makes it easier for them to process if and when you need to go with Plan B.

I know, all too well, that peoples situations are unique, mine certainly was. During the Holiday’s emotions can run higher than normal. If a Divorce is already difficult, it may get a bit worse, but in most cases, if you are strategic and plan ahead, you have a better chance of diffusing tough situations.

Do Keep Traditions and Add New Ones Too

If a special tradition is missed due to a coparneting schedule, schedule it for a different day; if it’s waffles for breakfast on Christmas morning, pick another day to carry on that special tradition. Don’t feel bad about the change, kids are resilient, and you can be too! Traditions will help to balance out the Holidays for everyone, especially when changes occur with scheduling from year to year.

You should listen to your kids too – my first Thanksgiving during my divorce, my boys were scheduled to be with their Dad. My oldest son, who was 7, couldn’t imagine that he wasn’t going to spend Thanksgiving with his maternal Grandparents. It’s what we always did. It was important and emotionally it was in his best interest. My family accommodated my son’s wish, they moved up our meal time by 4 hours. With that, it required us to head out right after dinner, get the boys in the car, and drive 4 hours round trip to where his father was celebrating his Thanksgiving, it turned out perfect for the boys.

Those 4 hours in the car could have been crummy for me, they took a nap; good thing that I am a planner. I knew it was possible, enevitable, that I could be crying the entire way home, so I picked up an audio book at my public library earlier in the week. The time flew by, and I was back home in no time!

Do Manage Your “Alone Time

For many of you, like me, there will be times you are ALONE during the Holiday season. Sure you can visit with friends and family on Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas, but what about the extended time around the Holidays? Whether you have kids or not, it's important to manage this time too. Why is it that we feel often feel so UNCOMFORTABLE with being alone? Is it that we often associate being ALONE with being LONELY?

As a society we are often conditioned, from a young age, to falsely believe that being alone is wrong. How many times have you heard -“don’t just sit there by yourself, come and join us”? We have been taught that being alone is; weird, anti-social, even pathetic, that being alone means there is something “wrong” with us. Well it’s just not true!

Yes, there are always friends to hang with, dates to go on, clubs to join, and activities to attend, but, don’t break the bank, sticking to a budget during a divorce and around the Holiday’s is important too. Learning to love your alone time, and not fill it up and over book yourself, is healthy, it's healing and it's a catalyst for growth! It takes a little getting used to, but, in this digital age we live in there is so much opportunity that comes with having time alone. I am not talking about social media, online dating and binge watching your favorite series, although in moderation it’s all fine.

The opportunities I have found are in education and even earning an extra income. Taking online courses, can open doors to a new career or furthering your current one. What to ditch your 9-5, eventually, become a digital nomad, or start a business to subsidize what you’re already doing? There are endless opportunities! There are plenty of websites that are offering free courses, two of my favorite sites, Udemy and Craftsy are a great place to start, they offer something for everyone!

Do Keep Your Emotions In-check

The Holiday season evokes memories; reminiscing about the past, thinking of how things once were, and in most marriages, the happier times. It’s a lot nicer to remember the happy times together as an intact family. Changes in the marriage, can often bring changes to the extended family dynamic, friendships and again, those Holiday traditions that were celebrated over the years. Preparing yourself for these changes, especially your emotions and reactions to those changes is helpful to getting through these difficult times.

Remind yourself that you may no longer be invited to that amazing Holiday party, you have attended with your spouse for the last 15 or so many years! You may also need to do without your Spouses Grandmothers apple pie. Here's an idea, if the lines of communication are open (it may even squash some ill will) pick up the phone and Grandma, wish her well and tell her you’ll be thinking of her and the amazing apple pie she so graciously shared with everyone each year! Even the extended family will be feeling the changes and she may offer you the recipe!

Getting your emotions in-check, keeping your expectations low, and coming to terms with the fact that “things have changed”, will help to manage some of the stress. If it's been a few years and you’re still struggling, then it’s time to seek professional help, don’t stay stuck where you are. If it’s your first Holiday season, and you know it’s going to be difficult, speak with a therapist, certified divorce coach or seek help from a divorce support group; all these options can help to ease the pain, and offer some great coping mechanisms.

For you Parents and Grandparents, the kids will also be feeling emotional; extra hugs, special treats and even time together taking a walk, reading a book or planning a board game will make a difference.

Don’t let Gifting, Cards and Party Invites Get To You

We all understand that Divorce has a significant impact on Finances. The Holidays can, and will, put an extra strain on your budget. It’s so easy to overspend not only on gifts, but doing extra events and activities. The costs add up and will have an impact on your available time. This all adds stress to your everyday life.

If your unable to exchange gifts with family due to finances, make a phone call or send an email explaining just that. Most people will understand. If you still want to provide a gift, suggest a grab bag, a dollar limit or even a cookie exchange.

Kids are resilient and very understanding; if finances are tight, prepare them early, tell them this year needs to be different. If they are old enough and aware of the situation, they generally will understand. Little ones don’t need to be showered with big presents. If it’s possible for you and your Ex to work together on gifting that is a great option, and healthy for your kids to see. Don’t get sucked into to a gifting competition, it just doesn't make sense! Don’t trap yourself into thinking what you can’t do; change your mindset and thinking to what it is that you can do!

If you want to send Christmas cards, then send them, cut your list in half or even skip this year. If you aren’t quite sure how to sign your cards, go with a generic and unassuming salutation, like “The Smith Family”. No matter what the current dynamic, you’re still a family and it doesn’t make any specific “announcement or statement". Keep things simple, and, if you are the family that sends the long-winded Holiday letter every year, it may be time to leave that tradition behind for a year or two! If you have a sense of humor, that “Special Holiday Newsletter” may be just perfect for a select few family and friends.

Party invites can be tricky, and for your own sanity, it may make sense to skip some! There is nothing worse than enjoying yourself at a party and have someone walk up to you with that half-cocked sympathetic look and gently touch your arm to say, “How are you?” implying, oh, you poor thing. It’s important to put yourself in good uplifting situations. Steer clear of the gossips, stay focused on the positive and have your prepared responses “locked and loaded”. As an example to their question - “I am doing well, thanks for asking, we’ve had few changes, but it’s the Holidays and the kids and I are having a really great time together”. Then, quickly change the subject to “How are you, tell me all about your kids/job!”, most people want to talk about themselves anyway!

With cards and parties, there is no need to air your dirty laundry, let people see you; in control, handling things well, and being your Best Self!

Gifting – this might be tricky! In the best possible scenario, it would be great if you and your Ex can collaborate on gifting for your kids and work together. This is the best scenario, and probably will not happened in every family. If you can talk with your Ex about gifting, do it, even if it’s over email or text. Suggestions are helpful, and can avoid duplication, if you send suggestions, make sure you include a list of the gifts you are purchasing.

If your kids are visiting with relatives from the other side, check with your Spouse to see if they need gifts, simple handmade treats or anything handmade is almost always welcomed by a relative. It also teaches the kids about the importance of family, and, they will be very proud to exchange their special gifts they made. Don’t argue about this point, yes, it should be your Spouse responsibility, but, focus on what’s best for your children.

When in doubt, send a gift, if you always exchanged and you’re not sure of the new protocol, especially in the first year, stick with what you’ve always done. If finances are an issue, address this early, come up with an alternative, even a nice note saying how much you’ve always appreciated someone is a wonderful gift. Always take the high road!

Don’ t Change the Co-parenting Plan, Unless You Both Agree

Co-parenting and visitation is the toughest and most strenuous part of the Holidays for Families; even those with Adult children know the struggles of scheduling and sharing time. Try to keep all kids, young and old, out of any frustrations, complaints and issues. If there is drama this year, they may make other plans for the following year.

Most custody and visitation orders spell out Holidays right down to the very hour. Stick to the schedule, allow for traffic and make sure the children understand the schedule in advance. Let them know when they will be see each parent and their extended family. Providing kids scheduling information; helps them to adjust, avoid meltdowns, and helps them to manage their emotions. If it’s hard for you, think about how hard it is for them.

If a schedule needs to be modified, it’s best to do this ahead of time and document the changes. If there is an issue with the visitation and law enforcement needs to get involved it’s good to have any court orders on hand, with any documented changes, in most cases the court order will be enforced and followed. If a child is sick, truly ill, the decision on where the child is going to be should be a family decision and be in the best interest of the child, if the other kids are healthy, have them stick to the schedule. Don’t ever put your kids in a situation where they need to choose or lie about parenting time, this is never in your child’s best interest.

Many custody orders include how a minor child’s religion is fostered between homes if this was important to your family in the past. Religious traditions need to be respected and encouraged. If it was OK for your child to practice a faith within the intact family, it should also be OK for them to continue their faith in the new family structure.

Do Survive, Thrive and Have Fun while Enjoying the Holidays!

Surviving, Thriving and enjoying the Holidays should be a goal for you. It’s hard enough to go through a separation or divorce at anytime, with the Holidays looming, it’s more stressful and much easier to become emotional. Focusing on being the best you can be, becoming and being your “Best Self” is key.

It’s easy to put the Holiday planning and preparation off, but don't doit, it's important and in the end, you will Survive. Planning, organization and making thoughtful decisions will not only allow you to Survive, but it will also allow you to Thrive!

It’s time to start thinking about the Holidays and begin your planning, remember; don’t have high expectations, be flexible, and make your plans early, this is necessary in keeping your sanity. Don’t break the bank, you will regret it in January – prepare and stick to a budget. Most of all, relax and enjoy yourself!

If you are feeling down or frustrated, reach out to your support system, if you are working with a therapist or a Divorce Coach, book your appointments now! Support Professionals see a rise in appointments, coinciding with the Holiday’s, they tend to book up quickly with clients looking for last minute sessions that are hard to come by.

The bottom line is that you won’t be able to do it all, or deal with it all. You are the only one who can control; how you choose to react, how you choose to spend your time and how you choose to spend your money. Planning and organization is a big stress reliever; shop and/or make gifts now, bake cookies and freeze them, have friends visit early, instead of trying to recipricate at the busiest time of the year. There is plenty of time to plan for a fantastic Holiday and with Thanksgiving coming early this year, 10/22/19, you better get started!

Most of all, be the best person you can be, it’s not going to be the perfect Holiday, but it can be a lot of FUN!

Kerry Porter is a Certified Divorce Coach and the Founder of Divorce Response Team. Her own divorce set her on a path to change the way people divorce; fighting is expensive and her own legal bills mounted. For over 20 years Kerry has been advising clients on the divorce process and divorce recovery. She has led local DivorceCare™ Recovery Groups and a children’s recovery program, “Kids in the Middle™”.