By Lois Nightingale, Ph.D
Holidays after a divorce can be very difficult. Holidays with children after a divorce can be worse, even terrifying. Whether this is “your year” with the children or not, facing the holidays and knowing that they will be different from previous years can be challenging. The following are some suggestions to help single parents make the most of the holiday season and help create lasting memories for their children and themselves.
1. Let go of comparisons with the past. Remember that in one way or another “these are the good old days” that you will look back on in years to come. We cannot recreate the past, and to dwell on it only makes us miss out on what we might enjoy now.
2. Be open to creating new traditions. Celebrate an aspect of the winter holiday season that you have never done before, such as Winter Solstice, Kwanza, or the first day of Winter vacation. Start a “family tradition” with a special dessert recipe, hand made decorations, a favorite holiday story, a musical or theatrical event, or act of charity.
3. Don’t take yourself or the holiday season too seriously. Laugh a lot. Spend time in fantasy. Christmas and Chanukah are filled with stories and rich fantasy for children. Join in! Put up some whimsical decoration that creates a sense of lightness (mistletoe, candles, lights, and mythical characters).
4. Give your children the gift of a guilt-free holiday season. Don’t make them responsible for your happiness or entertainment. Don’t spend so much money that you feel “taken advantage of”. Children would rather have a holiday with a fun-filled parent than one with lots of presents and a parent who is angry, overwhelmed and resentful. If you will not be with your children on a holiday, call or send a gift or card to make contact with them, then celebrate with them on the next day that you are together. Most children love celebrating holidays more than once.
5. Plan ahead. If money is tight start buying presents in advance so that the extra expense is spread out over time. Plan ahead how much you will spend and then stick to this amount. Make visiting arrangements with the other parent well in advance, in writing if necessary to avoid any last minute confusion.
6. Consider doing something completely different from previous years. If you are alone this year think about taking a trip or spending time with friends out of town. If you have your children, consider celebrating the holiday in a different location, in the mountains or at the beach, etc.
7. Focus on giving and sharing. Model for your children that there is real joy in sharing with others. No matter how little you have, there is always a place where you can contribute to someone else’s happiness. Help children recognize how fortunate they are, not by lecturing but by sharing. Give them the joy of sharing with those less fortunate in hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, hospices, soup kitchens, foster homes, homeless shelters, (if you need ideas check with your local church or temple).
8. Spend time with extended family. If you do not have or are not comfortable with your own biological family, spend time with your chosen family (those people who love and support you unconditionally). Whether you are with your children or alone, surrounding yourself with the warmth of those who care about you is an important part of making memories and celebrating.
9. Don’t over indulge in alcohol or other drugs. Holiday time can sometimes be painful, but anesthetizing emotional pain with chemicals only creates more depression and leads to a greater sense of hopelessness and isolation. When people dull their emotional pain with chemicals there are often very high prices to pay later (apologies to children and other family members, drunk driving arrests, accidents etc.).
10. Make lasting memories. Take pictures. Make audiotapes of grandparent stories or children retelling holiday tales. Take home movies of children dressing up, opening gifts or performing. Create a scrapbook with your children. Make ornaments together.
11. Find free or low-cost activities to help make the holidays festive. Have children make their own wrapping paper with crayons and glitter or newspaper comics. Play a holiday tape in the car as you drive looking at decorated homes and lights. Visit large hotel lobbies and take in the spectacular decorations. Check out holiday cookbooks from the library and make something with your children you have never made before. Visit Santas (go during the less crowded times).
12. Keep a written list of all the things your child tells you they want. It is impossible for any parent to get children everything they wish for. But it is important to acknowledge what a child asks for. A great way to let a child know you are listening and that what they say is important, is to keep a “special” list of all the things they ask for. Don’t make a child feel bad for wanting everything. It is normal and healthy for a child to have a hunger for life and want to experience all they can. It is also appropriate to let them know that you will not be getting everything on the list, but their list is very important to you.
13. Be good to yourself. Take time to rejuvenate and spend time with encouraging friends. Participate in the aspects of the holiday which bring a sense of joy and mystery to you. If being around a lot of people is draining for you, spend some alone time before and after you attend activities with a lot of people.
14. Be aware of your internal and external dialogue. Focus on the positive. Say hopeful and optimistic things to yourself and aloud. Our expectations are seldom unmet. If we focus on the positive and the best possibilities, these are usually what we get. If we focus on the negative and brace ourselves for the worst possible outcome, this is also what we usually get.
© 2011 by Lois V. Nightingale, Ph.D., director of the Nightingale Center in Yorba Linda and author of My Parents Still Love Me Even Though They’re Getting Divorced. 714-993-5343 www.nightingalecenter.com