By Heather Gray
Being a divorced dad during the holidays is a landmine of suck. You want to be with your kids but you don’t want to make things harder for them. Everywhere you go, people talk about traditions and you get smacked in the face over and over again with the reminder that traditions don’t really exist for you anymore. Nothing is the same as it used to be and loneliness bites back. Hard.-Divorced Dad of 2
If this sounds familiar, here’s what you can do:
Get really clear about what you want.
If the holidays could be any way you wanted, how would they be and what would they look like? What is your clear, unedited, and uncensored picture of your perfect holiday? Sit with it for a second.
Prepare yourself to move to the how.
Yes, there are obstacles like legal agreements and the preferences of others. However, if you get really clear with what you want, it is easier to problem solve around the obstacles. Don’t assume you have to concede defeat and not get anything you want.
Plan ahead and talk to your ex before talking to your kids.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. The worst thing you might hear is no. Encourage the kids’ mother to share her wishes and needs for the holidays. See what would be easy for you to give, and give it openly. Prepare yourself for compromise and negotiations.
Think outside of the legal agreement, if at all possible.
If you and your ex are amicable, you can both work together to think outside the box of the standard legal agreement. You can make room for the idea that if the kids are with their mom on Christmas Eve, you can still go over and help them set out the milk and cookies before bed.
Christmas morning might still be mom’s scheduled time but perhaps it can be possible for you to come early in the morning to watch them open presents before leaving and doing separate things. Hanukah spans a week. Be creative with scheduling and visitation so the holiday can be celebrated in both households. If possibilities like this are part of your perfect holiday wish, try to make them happen.
Create new traditions.
Change has happened to your family. Don’t leave a hole where old traditions used to be. Make new traditions for you and your kids. Remember that vision of a perfect holiday? You might find new ideas for traditions there. Invite the kids to your place to pick out a tree and decorate it. If the home they share with their mom has the menorah, encourage them to help you pick one out for your place. Send Santa a change of address form. Come up with new activities to do together and the ones that are successful become your new tradition for next year.
Don’t pretend the changes are a secret.
Remember the landmine reference? Yeah, conversations like these are usually where they are found. Once you and your ex have a plan for how the holidays are going to go, talk to the kids about it. Sometimes parents want to skip the hard conversations and pretend change isn’t happening. All that does is send the message that the changes are so hard, they can’t be spoken about and that isn’t necessarily true.
Talk to your kids about the changes. Acknowledge and share your disappointment but also share your wish for new memories and new traditions. Recognize their sadness, disappointment, and grief over the loss of the way their family used to be.
Don’t compromise the time with your kids away.
No one likes change and kids can particularly struggle with it during the holidays. Seeing their sadness and disappointment will make you want to turn cartwheels or stand on your head to avoid hurting them. After all, “the divorce wasn’t their fault”.
Kids can be masters at avoiding change and they will play every card in the deck to avoid it. Compromise with them, too. If it’s your time with them but there is a holiday party, event, or activity they want to go to, by all means don’t make them miss it. However, at the end of the day, you are their dad and time with you has to be a priority, too.
If conflicts are bumping up against several times with you, you’ll have to make them choose what is most important to them. If you do compromise visit time so they can do something they really want, prioritize making up that time, whenever possible. While this may make things difficult for them, it also sends the message that time with them is not something that just happens when there is nothing else to do. It tells you, your ex, and your kids that the relationship between a dad and his kids in non-negotiable.
Make sure the holidays happen in your home, too.
So often when I talk to dads at this time of year, I learn that they haven’t decorated their new place for the holidays. They haven’t gotten a tree or done anything outside in the yard with lights, even though they used to when the family was all together. I get it. What’s the point? If you’re not with your kids, it doesn’t really feel like a holiday.
However, this change isn’t temporary. It’s permanent and you want to create a sense of holiday, not just for you but for your kids. If it feels like the holidays at your place, too, it will be easier for them to adjust to the holidays being different. This is an easy way to make the changes more manageable and less suffocating for everyone.
Give yourself something to look forward to.
Without the kids and in-laws, there are going to be holes in your schedule. Loneliness may be unavoidable. Don’t just hide at your place and count the days until January 2nd.
Plan for what you’ll do during those times. Pick a TV show that you have wanted to check out and plan a marathon. Plan some physical activities to relieve the stress and sadness that comes with this time. Take a daytrip. Volunteer. Finish a project that will feel good to have completed before the end of the year. Start researching and planning a trip or activity you can do with your kids after the holidays.
Remind yourself that the holidays only last for six weeks and you can do anything for six weeks.
Divorce comes with so much pain and sadness. You’ve already overcome a lot of that just to get to this place. This time of year is hard and will come with adjustment but if you take care of yourself and your kids, you can make new memories that will make next year much easier.
Originally appeared at The Good Men Project
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