The end of the calendar year brings the holidays into view, and for newly separated and divorced parents, the arrival of the holidays brings anxiety, not cheer. This is all the more true for parents who will not be seeing their children on the traditional holidays. What approach can a newly divorced parent take now that the holidays are here? A few suggestions:
1. Try to see the changes in your life as opportunities, rather than challenges. I’ve suggested to clients through the years to buy the December issue of “Chicago Magazine” and find activities to do alone, if necessary, and new holiday activities that can be shared with the children. Visit one of the hotels in Chicago to see the holiday displays…do something, anything, that is new and different. The key is to let go of how the holidays used to be in the marriage and to create new adventures…for yourself and the children.
2. Establish new traditions, rather than lamenting the loss of old traditions. Instead of being sad that the children weren’t with you to pick out the holiday tree, take a day that you do have the children, and ride the train into Chicago to visit the Daley Center’s German Christmas Market. Buy an ornament that the children select from one of the Market’s vendors, and take it home and place it on the tree.
3. Many clients report that during holidays the other spouse’s family was the host family for most holiday activities. This holiday, reconnect with your siblings, or cousins that you lost track of during the marriage, and plan to visit with these family members. Take the children with you, if you can. Many parents find it easy to reconnect with family that may have been neglected somewhat during the marriage.
4. Project enthusiasm and happiness in these new activities with your children. Many kids are unsure how to feel in a new environment, and depend on their parents for “cues” as to how to perceive a new event. If you’re in a new event or activity, don’t lament how good things used to be; stay in the present, celebrate, and express happiness, and the feeling will be contagious.
5. Finally, take care of yourself. Use the time off during the holidays to reconnect with friends, or to make a list of new activities or places to see and experience in 2011. Not having your children with you every day is a terrible loss, but replace this feeling of loss with a sense of opportunity….use the “free” time to cultivate new opportunities for your physical, emotional, or spiritual growth. Plan new, “outside the box” ideas for yourself and the children.
Finally, keep in mind that greatest gift that you can give your children at the holidays is a sense of comfort and stability. Project a feeling of wellbeing when you are with them. Smile. Feel free to laugh. Let your kids know, through your smile and enthusiasm, that despite the changes, the holidays, and the future, seem worth celebrating.