The holidays can be a stressful time for any family. Family members can get lost in a flurry of activity, focusing on deadlines and forgetting about the joy. But if your family has gone through a separation or divorce, this time of the year may have a whole new set of challenges. The holidays can turn into a very complicated and difficult time for the parents and children from separated families, and below are some tips on how to move your family towards a meaningful and memorable holiday season.
The reality is that children who have parents living in two different homes may experience some extra burdens. They may worry about which parent they will be with at what time, and they may fear that their parents will fight over how they share the holidays. As a child and family therapist, I have had many children sit in my office who told me that Christmas used to be their favorite time of the year, but now they are just dreading it. In order for the adults to help manage this season it is important to understand what turns youthful joy into anxiety and fear.
Children may worry they are being disloyal if they start to have too much fun with one parent. They also worry about the parent that they are not with, wondering if that parent is okay. Sometimes they just deeply miss the parent they are not with. The familiar traditions may be gone and this can leave the children feeling as though something or someone is missing.
Here are some tips on how to keep the season both meaningful and joyful for the children:
1. Take care of the practical stuff so your children do not have to worry about it. Have your holiday parenting time schedule figured out far in advance.
2. If you are experiencing difficulty with your ex-spouse in figuring out the schedule or other holiday logistics, keep the conflict away from the children. Managing the details and the schedule is an adult job, not a job for the children.
3. Be respectful to your ex-spouse and recognize that the children have a right to spend time with both parents during the holidays. Remember, that time with both parents is good for your children.
4. Be honest that things have changed in your family. Let the children know what has changed, and what has not. Do not try to pretend that everything is the same.
5. Be aware of your own feelings of sadness, anger or loss. Model to your children that life moves forward and you can still experience joy. This will give them permission to celebrate and be joyful as well.
6. Socialize and share holiday experiences with friends and family.
7. Find quiet times to play games and listen to Christmas music.
8. Watch your favorite Christmas movies together, and read your favorite Christmas books. No child is ever too young or too old for "It was the night before Christmas".
9. Maintain meaningful familiar traditions even if they feel different.
10. Create new traditions, and allow the children to contribute their ideas.
11. Allow the authentic feelings to arise in a natural way. If your child is sad, do not try to talk them into feeling better. Let them be sad and allow the feelings to flow. Keep the feelings moving.
12. Acknowledge the losses.
13. Remind yourself of the things to be grateful for.
14. Do something for someone else. Find a way for your children to contribute to something with meaning.
15. It is not the "stuff" that matters at Christmas, but rather the connection. Create connection for yourself and you children during the holidays and you will all experience the real meaning of Christmas.
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