The divorce is final and now we have the challenge of the first year. The first year after your divorce and every year thereafter is going to contain holidays. As with all of our challenges in life, it is never the challenge, it is always our perception of the challenge.
Years ago when I was running a group in the local jail, and the end of the year holidays were approaching, everyone in the group announced they were going to make my life miserable because they all hated the holidays. Well, never one to back away from a challenge, I enjoyed having them eat those words. I hired a videographer (remember it was years ago), and he helped each group member make a holiday tape to send to their families. We had a group holiday sing - also taped which was added to their individual tapes. The community donated everything we needed and the group members thanked me profusely remembering it as one of their best holidays (and they were in jail.) The key was not money but rather creativity.
Let's pull out our creative genes and avoid some common pitfalls while we create holidays to remember.
If there is financial inequity between the households, we need to avoid getting discouraged because we can't buy as many presents as the other household. Children need time with their parents. Children need happy memories. Memories and family time are free. We can all offer both. So if we have an "ex" who is into material things we can't make it wrong. We have to be clear what our gift is to our child. Some of us love nature, which is free so our holidays can include the beauty and gifts of nature. If music or art is our gift, we can have our holidays include these gifts. We don't have to say I don't believe in "buying your love like your Dad/Mom does", we simply say we are planning the holiday to include what is important to everyone. Financial inequality is a tough challenge and some children will gravitate to the "lots of gifts" in the moment. However, as life goes on and our children mature, if we are clear and confident about our gifts (an overnight birthday camping trip with stories by the fire, singing, hiking laughing for example) our gifts will be remembered and appreciated. If we have to make the other parent wrong, we run the risk of our child remembering our anger not our gifts. We can't fall into that trap. When your child lands in a smart therapist's office later in life and is asked what are some of your favorite moments growing up, we want to be that parent who spent time creating memories with our child.
Do Plan Ahead!
Planning ahead can include a family conversation about what everyone's expectation is for the upcoming holiday. Write down what is important to everyone (we can't forget ourselves) and make that happen. The list should not be about gifts but rather about baking, singing, music, sledding, walks, sleeping late, family movie and popcorn etc. If you have a favorite holiday movie create a memory with the whole family watching. Arrange another evening of telling jokes, stories, laughing, playing games, anyway you can spend time together and be happy. Planning ahead has so many advantages. It is our opportunity to give our child his/her voice, which is paramount during a divorce. It makes the holiday feel longer because we are devoting lots of time to the day being special. It communicates someone cares about what is going on with our child and what would make him/her feel better during this time.
Do Be Creative!
Some of the holidays are easier than others to duplicate. A child may have two birthdays on one hand, and something like Halloween or religious holidays etc. present a different challenge. If we remember our Golden Rule, Holidays are Memories, we can create a celebration of traditions on a different day. I grew up with four seasons so we associate different foods, smells, and traditions with different times of the year. A costume party, bobbing for apples, dunking donuts in some nice hot drink with lots of music and singing can be as much fun as trick or treating. If you can do the holidays with your ex you are one of the lucky ones, but if not don't be a victim. Most parents are on every other year schedules so make all of your holidays memorable!! You have the opportunity to teach your child lots of traditions during this time so don't miss that opportunity.
Do Give your Children a Vote!
I have said in previous articles that children feel impotent during divorce. They don't have a vote and usually they are the ones most inconvenienced, to say the least, by the two-home world they now have to negotiate. Holidays are a lovely way for us to give them some control over this new life. Let them tell you how they want each holiday to be for them. Don't veto an idea because it isn't something you did as a child. Be open to what your child may be trying to accomplish with his/her idea. Be curious and accepting when your child says I want to cook a particular dish by myself for this holiday or sleep in or play my music. There may be something going on in the other house, which doesn't allow any of these behaviors and your child is trying to remedy his frustration by being allowed to do it in your house. "Sounds like a great idea" is a good response if there is no reason not to do as your child is requesting. Add your requests and reinvent the first year of holidays to be some of their best memories with you during a difficult time.
To be in your children's memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today. ~Unknown
Dr. Anne Brown PhD, RN of Sausalito, California, is a psychotherapist, speaker, coach, and the author of Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No . Anne's approach is especially applicable to people affected by divorce. Backbone Power is a no nonsense self help guide to making decisions while having backbone and integrity in all your choices, short term and long term. In addition to helping the divorce community, Anne has over twenty years' experience as the trusted advocate and advisor to influential corporate leaders, trial attorneys, athletes, leaders, physicians and others seeking actionable guidance. Brown is a graduate of the University of Virginia, BS in Nursing; Boston University, MS in Psychiatric-Mental Health in Nursing; and International University, PhD in Addiction Studies. In 1997 Brown also reached a personal goal of obtaining her Black Belt in Soo Bahk Do. You can contact Dr. Anne Brown through her website: www.BackbonePower.com .