Surviving and Thriving During the Holidays (Hacks to Stay Sane, Even When You’re Going through a Divorce!)
It’s brutal, and there’s no easy way around it. Divorce is the second most stressful event an adult can experience in a lifetime, second only to the death of a child or loved one. More importantly, navigating the first holiday season without parents together, doing the same thing they’ve done every year of their lives, can be absolutely horrible for children.
Having worked with thousands of parents through the holidays as a child custody evaluator for the last twenty years, I can tell you that the stress is real. Decisions about who will take the children trick-or-treating must be made, and arguments about whether they will dress as a superhero or princess can end in an outright brawl.
Who will serve the children turkey dinner and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving all of a sudden feels like a life-and-death decision. Which chimney will Santa saunter down? And more importantly, will Santa even have enough money to power up his sleigh and buy food for Rudolph this year, let alone deliver the latest and greatest toys? All good questions that need answers.
No matter which holidays your family celebrates, commitment to doing your best each day is key. Plus, by following a few easy hacks, you will survive your first holiday season without your child’s other parent and set your child(ren) up to thrive right now and in all the years ahead.
Here are a few tricks (and treats) to make it easier:
- Practice Mindfulness: Your children are watching and listening to every-single-thing. It is not only spoken words they absorb, but it’s your attitude and behavior toward their other parent that speak the loudest. Keep those angry monsters, jealous goblins, and ugly ghouls completely out of it. Being kind to your child’s other parent is a choice—one of the best ones you can make.
- Communicate Clearly and Calmly: Think Casper the Friendly Ghost, not Krampus! Falling into a pattern of reactivity is a common mistake parents make when they are facing the stress of divorce. Take a few minutes to write and then read over an email or text message instead of reacting in the heat of the moment. Streamline all communication. Simple is better for now.
- Use Online Communication Platforms: Planning holiday schedules can be much easier with an online tool. OurFamilyWizard has saved parents thousands of dollars by helping to promote positive communication about children during times of high stress. It is the most comprehensive platform.
- Avoid Numbing or Self-Destructive Substances: It may be tempting to mis-use or over-use those witch’s brews, eggnogs, or hot toddies through the holidays. Understandably, parents want to dull those raging emotions that accompany a major change in the family system, but please remember that your children look to you for guidance and security. They need their parents’ best and sober selves to shine and lead by example so they, too, can get through this uncertain and unpredictable time in the best shape possible.
- Get Professional Support If You Need It: Likely, you do not have a magic wand or the North Pole on speed dial to abracadabra a quick fairytale ending to this nightmare. No worries! Counselors help guide, attorneys advocate, mediators are skilled at bringing two parties closer to the middle, and evaluators assist in crafting best-interest parenting time plans when parents are deadlocked. Many forms of relief await to help you navigate this tricky and uncomfortable terrain.
A small percentage of divorcing families experience high conflict, which is detrimental to children. In these cases, the court may order a child custody evaluation to help determine what is in the child’s best interest, which can be quite intimidating and scary for parents and children alike. If you find yourself in this situation, educating yourself on what to expect from an evaluation can help make it feel less intimidating and create a smoother process for you and your children.
In the meantime, use these hacks to make your holidays as merry as possible, no matter what you’re celebrating.
Lori Bonnevier is a licensed clinical social worker from Portland, Oregon. Lori practices primarily as a child custody and parenting time evaluator. She has also served as a child and family therapist, mediator, parent coordinator, and best interest consultant and coach.
If you find these holiday hacks helpful and are in a high-conflict divorce with children, stay tuned for Lori’s upcoming book, You Don’t Have To Crush Your Ex: Hints, Hacks, and Hell No’s to Win Your Custody Evaluation. This is an insightful, hilariously entertaining, fictionalized story that will help parents prepare for a child custody evaluation. Its choose-your-own-outcome format gives you the opportunity to make various choices and learn what the outcomes of those choices will likely be before you are actually involved in an evaluation in real time. You’ll learn what to expect and what you can do to make it a smoother experience for your children.
To learn more about Lori and her book, visit ChildFocused.net.