By: Tess Worrell
Whether it’s the first post-divorce Christmas or another year of juggling holiday time–re-framing family expectations and experiences can challenge the spirit of the season. Children, used to Christmas morning at home, wake up in a different house. Parents alternate missing the Christmas morning squeals of delight and instead spend the day alone. Many couples rank the holidays among the toughest aspects of divorce. Yet, though emotional and difficult, Christmas can still be joyful. Families nostalgic for the past can look forward to creating new memories and preserving the joy of the season.
- Preserve traditions. What traditions formed your family identity? Preserve those–even in different houses. Build the gingerbread house; play the carols; attend mass. Parents can choose the traditions most meaningful to them to carry on. If both enjoy a tradition–keep it going in both houses. When parents continue traditions, they demonstrate that the children’s and the family’s identity lives on despite some major changes. That security may ultimately be the best Christmas gift you’ll give.
- Go together. It’s even better if you can preserve the traditions together. If you went traipsing through the Christmas farm to pick out the family tree, pick a day and go together for this year’s trees. Go together to your son’s Christmas concert. Go together to your daughter’s ballet. Go together to the Christmas Eve service at your church. Seeing Mom and Dad come together for something bigger than their own desires teaches children to that there is something bigger than this present situation. Something everyone can cling to even as daily life changes.
Beware! Optimistic children, seeing their parents share these moments, may assume the two of you are reuniting. If you detect this–be concrete. A simple, “Mom and Dad are still going to live apart, but we are both your parents. We both want you to see you sing the solo and support you, so we’re going together.” The clarity will avoid false hope while offering genuine hope for the continued, intimate involvement of both parents in their lives.
- Put children first. The best parents don’t wrangle over who got Christmas morning last year or over who gives the biggest, best present. If you want joy for your children (and for yourselves), put the children first. In every discussion, in every choice, in every schedule ask, “What can we do to work together to care for our children?” Then, do that.
Likely–both parents will have to suffer a bit. Key to being a grown-up is learning to suffer well. To set aside our own disappointment and thwarted desires to give our children what they need. Our children need meaningful time with both parents to develop the authentic relationships required to thrive. For our children to get this time, each parent will have to willingly sacrifice some element of their ideal vision for Christmas day. At the same time, putting the children first includes honoring the special times children enjoy with the other parent. If both parents focus on protecting this time for their children–each parent should receive the moments that count most.
Expectation and emotion define the holiday season. Divorce impacts both. Yet, parents create new expectations and good emotions when they are willing to work together and to put the children first. As you enter the season, may you find a path–together–that brings joy to all.