WB attorney, Allison Kessler Ellison, weighs in on priorities and strategies
AKE: Whenever a new situation arises, there will always be a period of transition as you work on becoming accustomed to a new normal. 2020, with its relentless disruption of routine and tradition, may be that kind of year for your family: one of transition – and I’m not just talking about considerations surrounding Covid-19. We’ve had months to practice social distancing and mask wearing, and we have all become pros at hand sanitizing. But perhaps this is your first holiday season post-separation or divorce, and you are working on figuring out your new holiday plans. When you’ve had years of tried and true holiday festivities, it may seem daunting to consider doing anything new. Your children may be feeling emotional strain or anxiety about where the new arrangement leaves them in regard to their favorite holiday habits. Perhaps you feel additional pressure to keep them happy and yourself sane - and chances are that interactions with your ex-spouse or partner aren’t exactly relieving your stress. It is important to remember this first holiday season will likely be the hardest, and it should only get easier from here as your family finds what works and what doesn’t. In the end, your new “modern” family can fit back together in a different, and hopefully emotionally healthier way than before.
Here are some thoughts on preserving previous holiday traditions while navigating a changing family landscape:
Try to stick to a close resemblance of how you’ve celebrated holidays in the past
If you’ve gotten your Christmas tree from the same farm every year, or always attend your community’s Menorah lighting, you can keep the tradition going. You may not have as much time to spend with your children this holiday, but keep the time you do have as close to normal as possible for them if you think they will be comforted by old traditions. If their household looks different, familiar traditions can offer your children security, familiarity and contentment.
OR Use this year to create new traditions that will endure for the years to come
Have you always wanted to join your side of the family for a holiday dinner, but you couldn’t while celebrating with your spouse’s family? Or, have you always wanted to bake Christmas cookies with your children, but didn’t have time because of other traditions? Start new traditions this year that you and your children will love for many years to come. Try to think of the change in plans as a blank slate that you can fill with both new and old holiday traditions as you see fit.
Try to view your ex-spouse as the parent of your child, most importantly
Although you and your ex-spouse or partner have parted ways, he or she is still the other parent of your children. Trying to view your ex-spouse as a parent, rather than your former partner, in situations involving the children. This may subdue your feelings of anxiety and resentment, even if you were wronged during the relationship.
Don’t put your kids in the middle
When making holiday plans for your children (or any plans involving your children), communicate directly with your ex-partner. Do not ask your children to relay any messages to their other parent, as this will only put them in an uncomfortable position and create more stress for them. Many contentious situations arise purely from misunderstandings or miscommunications, which can often be avoided through direct communication.
Review your parenting plan in advance
If your divorce (or custody case) has been finalized, you have a permanent parenting plan in place which details when the children will be with you, and when they will be with your ex-partner. Make sure to review your parenting plan to try to avoid surprises, objections or arguments. Plan in advance how any custody exchanges will occur to limit disagreements with your ex-partner during the holiday season.
Avoid competing with gifts
Don’t forget: Both you are your ex-partner should focus on fulfilling your children’s holiday wishes, not outdoing each other by giving the children better or more expensive gifts.
Make plans for yourself
If this years’ plans involve you seeing your children less, make plans for yourself instead. Prioritize your physical, emotional and mental wellness, and plan activities you will look forward to. Surround yourself with friends and family that make you happy. This will probably be a tough year for your children, but it will likely be just as challenging, or even more so, for you. This can be a lonely and melancholy transition, so make sure to take care of yourself, knowing it will benefit you and your children during a difficult time.