Holidays, Loss and “New Norms”: Tips to recreate tradition
The holiday times are generally experienced as a happy time yet can be stressful for you and you children. They are enduring the same changes to what has been in the past as you are and everyone feels the loss. Old traditions may go by the wayside or what feels worse yet, traditions continue with your partnering parent and children while you wait on the sidelines. Painful moments.
This is a time that of course self-care and support are very important. I will also remind you that ti is a time to take your child’s perspective. View through their eyes, why they are upset, grumpy or defiant around transitions between their homes, holiday events, and general family moments. They have lost everything known about these holiday times and are working to rebuild some sense of normal. They may be watching their other parent continue traditions without them present, or make comments how much they will miss aspects of the holidays while in your care. Just as it is for you, the holidays can be a serious time of sadness, anger and acting out, especially the first few years after a divorce.
So how can we help ourselves AND our children through this time of celebration and changing traditions?
1. First, honor their feelings. They are legitimate. If they are angry- empathize. If they are sad, comfort. If they are distant, be available but not overwhelmingly present. Say “ I know this is a hard time and I am here for you.”
2. Don’t take it personally when they are reminiscing or talking about activities while in their other home. It is a good thing that they will share with you and remember we want them to feel like they can have a unified life. Encourage them to enjoy all parts of their lives as I promise you, this will help them be happier in your home as they do not feel they need to take care of you by eliminate half of their life experience.
3. Keep the child out of the middle. Do what you can here with all of your might. If the child is pressed to spend more time with the parenting parent, that is not a conversation to have with the child. You can merely affirm their desire by saying- “I hear it would be fun to be there on Christmas eve, it’s hard to get used to having two homes during the holidays.” “I understand going to an event with your mom would be fun. Its hard to feel like you are missing fun times.” Again, avoid being defensive or making promises you cannot keep. The most important part of this moment is your empathy towards your child. If both parents have developed some kind of working partnership with reciprocity of requests, then consider your partnering parent’s request but don’t make that request or answer go through the child.
4. Keep some traditions. If you had special dishes for Thanksgiving, put your tree up at a certain time, drove around looking at lights- or a multitude of other wonderful traditions, keep those going. I say this even if they enjoy the same tradition at their other home. Here is the trick- do not feel like you have to compete with the other experience. If a child says- “mommy does that dish better.” Merely say, “I remember, mom is a good cook and I am glad you like it. Let’s try this dish again and you can help me make it better.”
5. Here is the fun part: create new traditions. Be creative and even say out loud for example, “ We are going to make our own ornaments this year and see if we want that to be a new tradition for our family” or “ Let’s go to a concert or play or caroling.” There are so many opportunities this time of year to try new things. Get creative and enjoy exploring completely new ideas. Ask the child what they would like to add to your family traditions- you may be surprised at the great ideas they bring forward.
6. Have your child help decorate your home. This is especially important if you are in a new home as we want to imbed positive experiences in the new environment. This does not have to be expensive. Cut out snowflakes, garland, string popcorn and make ornaments. Shared positive activities promotes and repairs your relationship in so many ways.
7. Use rituals around the holidays. My podcast recently posted has more on this but basically, sue a special book you are reading, movie or repeated activity to promote a sense of anticipation and security as they travel back and forth between their two homes. For this season, read a traditional Christmas literature; A Christmas Carol, The Best Little Christmas Pageant Ever, The Gift of the Magi and other Christmas stories. Make a schedule of cookie baking that spreads out over each residential time with you. Create a countdown chain or Advent Calendar that includes the days they are with you, perhaps with a different color when they are at their other home.
8. For your own self-care, buy yourself a journal or notebook and every day, write down the positive of the day, what you have learned about how your child experienced your holiday traditions and the experience of new ones and prepare for the next event, bot practically and emotionally. One of the hardest things you will ever do is promote your child to enjoy their experiences with your ex and their family. Feel strong and proud of all you do in that because it is for your child and you are their secure parent.
Kristine Clay Copyright 2015