While a number of couples try to “get through the holidays” before getting started with a divorce, some couples find themselves in the midst of divorce proceedings in the midst of the holiday season. And that’s tough for a few reasons.
For divorcing couples with children, Thanksgiving and Christmas are two major celebrations emphasizing family and happiness. Divorce, of course, threatens both family unity and the happiness that everyone is supposed to feel this time of year. Also, divorce is accompanied a possession schedule that reinforces one of the hardest realities of divorce for parents: They’ll no longer spend every holiday with their kids.
Even for divorcing couples who don’t have children, divorce brings up questions about how their lives will change, their friendships will change, and what the future will bring. The holidays are a time where we want to be at our best, and it’s very hard to do that in the midst of a divorce.
So, our suggestion for couples navigating divorce during the holiday season is to try to take a break from divorce altogether. While it’s impossible to put it out of mind entirely, there are ways to minimize its effects.
The first thing to do is to try to navigate a truce with your soon-to-be-ex to cover the holidays. If there’s anything you’re doing in communication to push the other person’s buttons, pledge to stop doing that. If there are any points of contention that can be placed on hold until New Year’s Day, offer that as a solution. If children are involved, the case for a truce is much easier to make — you can reasonably propose that the truce will help you and your soon-to-be-ex’s children weather what will already be a tough holiday season.
Also, focus on your children when you’re with them. While you might be losing some holiday traditions with the divorce, there can be new holiday traditions at Mom’s house and Dad’s house that the children will come to treasure. If you believe you and the kids can hold it together emotionally for a family photo, it can be a reminder to all of you that you will still function as a family going forward, even though it’s a different family than the one you had.
If there’s a way to have your kids spend part of the time with Mom and part with Dad, that can help a lot of kids transition into a schedule that alternates Christmas and Thanksgiving possession every other year.
However, if your holiday ritual involves going to a different city and you want to stick with that, use the standard orders as a jumping off point, but talk things over before your truce begins and work toward a solution. It could be a template for how you handle holidays in future years, or it could reinforce what doesn’t work for you when it comes time to determine parenting schedules in the decree – but come up with something you can both live with before you declare the truce, and make sure you have written (or at least emailed) documentation you can refer back to. Nothing spoils a holiday truce like a fight over who gets the kids when.
Remember, finally, to use the break from the holiday season to take time for yourself. Everyone is different in how they deal with stress and how they overcome loss, and stress and loss are certainly potent parts of divorce. However, you can use a break from the divorce, where you don’t focus on the anger, to try to get yourself more calm, more rested, and ready to reconcile the divorce once the holidays are over. Finding a healthy way to get yourself more calm, with the space that a divorce hiatus gives you, will help you better enjoy the holidays and take on what comes after.