Updated: Jan 5, 2022
The holidays can be a rough time for a child after separation. I remember my first holiday with my children after separating from their dad. It was already hard knowing that I would be alone, but explaining to my kids that we would not be together as a family at holiday time was one of the most difficult conversations I ever had with them. Children typically have a hard time digesting their parents' separation, and they often have a more challenging time during the typical holiday season, a time of family gatherings. Suddenly, it is all too apparent that their parents are no longer together, and things will never be the same again.
With forethought, you can help your children move forward with hope and resilience and give them tools to create and fun and enjoyable holiday for the entire family.
The First Step - The Conversation
Kids are like sponges - they notice everything and soak up the emotional atmosphere in the room. If you feel sad, angry, or uncomfortable this holiday, your children will mimic you. Find a time to talk to your children when outside stressors are low and try to give your children as much time to process the news. Your body language must mirror what you want your children to understand: their parents separated, so everyone will be happier living apart. Family traditions around holidays will be logistically different, but the purpose behind the family traditions remains unchanged - holidays are a time to relax, recharge and have fun.
The Second Step - Create New Traditions with Your Children
As the holidays are typically a time for families to spend time together, your child may have confused thoughts and feelings about having only one parent or seeing each parent at a different time. If you try to enforce a new tradition without your child's input, they are likely to resist the change.
To help your child adjust to a new tradition, ask for their thoughts and ideas about what the holiday means to them. Often, children just want to be heard, and if you demonstrate that you are willing to incorporate some new ideas, they will be more accepting of any new traditions. Including your children in the design of your new family tradition lets your child know that they are still your focal point on holidays, and that will never change, even if some of the old traditions have.
The Third Step - Check in with Your Children and Family
One of the unique things about the holiday season is more time, allowing for more family conversations. Use that time to ask your children curious questions. Ask them what they hope for and what fun means to them. Or ask them for their favourite holiday memories. Knowing what your child is thinking and feeling will help you create a holiday that can turn into a prosperous family tradition in the future.
Additionally, many recently separated parents often feel pressure from grandparents, siblings, and new partners to continue with old traditions. Let your outside family members know that you are creating new traditions and ask for their input and thoughts too. Let them know you are in the creation process, and everything might not happen this first-year post-separation, but you want to build new family traditions that work for everyone.
The Fourth Step - Don't Forget to Check in with Yourself
It is natural to go over the top with your holiday plans to ensure that you and your children have an enjoyable holiday. After a recent separation, many parents often feel even more pressure to make holidays enjoyable for their children. Before planning a holiday extravaganza, think about your capacity and plan accordingly. This first holiday sets the tone for the future; it's usually better to start small and build from there. In addition, many newly separated parents are also often getting considerable pressure from their own parents, siblings, and new partners. Remind your family that you're doing your best and ask them to support you in rebuilding your family traditions by giving you more space and autonomy and less advice in this first year of new traditions.
Step Five- Don't Forget it's a Holiday!
While everyone has holiday preferences, I think we can all agree that we have holidays to recharge and reset. They are supposed to be fun and not just extra work for parents. If this is your first holiday post-separation, you probably need a break that this holiday will provide. Remember, it's not your job to create holiday magic for everyone else; instead, all you need to do is create the space to allow your children the opportunity to reset and recharge. This will lead to better holiday memories for your children and provide them with the tools and resilience to navigate other challenging situations in the future.