Across cultures, societies, and religions, for believers and non-believers, the transition from Fall into Winter begins a holiday season when families and children get together just for the sake of being together. For some, the holidays are a time of joy, for others stress and anxiety. For most of us, some of both. We are often mindful of how these events have the potential to create some of the happiest, and unhappiest, memories and associations for us and for our children that we’ll ever have. For parents who are newly separated or divorced, this idea can loom very large indeed.
Nostalgia is a powerful driving force as parents consider how they wish to create traditions around holidays for their own children; a sentimental longing for the perceived carefree days of their own childhood, missing the older folks who have long passed or the family recipes that were only cooked on special occasions. Or for other parents, whose childhoods may not have been so carefree, there may be a strong desire to provide the mythical idyllic holiday scenarios for their children that they always wished for themselves. Still for others, they feel duty bound by what can only be described as tremendous societal pressure (largely attributable to social media and other outside influences) to achieve that picture perfect table/tree/mantel/family that, when posted, will serve as proof that they have truly got their act together.
Whatever your source of inspiration may be, if you are divorced or separated then chances are pretty good that you are feeling the pressure to plan, plan, plan in order to make everything perfect for the upcoming holidays. You don’t want your kids to miss out on the “ideal” holiday experience just because their parents are no longer together! You are not wrong that family traditions you may have observed when you were all living together now look different. The truth is that change is the only constant and you can help your kids adapt to it by accepting that fact yourself.
Let’s be real; no two holidays have ever really looked the same. And when we think of some of our own favorite holiday memories, the common denominator is very rarely about whether or not our parents were sitting at the same table together holding hands, but about the overall feeling that something special was in the air. That everyone involved, whoever the players may be, were sharing a moment, or an hour, or a whole day, of good cheer or reverence and that it was precious because it was fleeting. And, as we all know, kids have built-in radar for detecting any disharmony that might spoil the holiday magic for everyone. If tension is thick between parents, relatives, friends or in-laws, that’s the ingredient that we have to look at the hardest when considering the memories and associations we are making for our children.
And so, practically speaking, planning for holidays when you and your co-parent are living apart really boils down to figuring out ways to minimize outside expectations and taking the pressure off wherever you can, in order to free yourself up for feeling the true spirit of the season. Whether that means alternating who the kids are with or spending holidays all together, store-bought costumes instead of home-made, staying home versus travelling, or ordering-in versus cooking, it’s the holiday harmony kids are looking for more than anything else, and they want to see it on the faces and hear it in the voices of the people they love. That, they’ll remember forever.
Mary Swann has worked for Kids First in administration for over 20 years. As a project coordinator she edits the monthly newsletter and is occasionally a contributing writer.
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