I am struck by the fact that more than one million children, young and older, each year find themselves in the precarious situation, after their parents’ divorce, of feeling like they have to choose one parent over the other. While many anticipate the holidays as a time of celebration, being together as a family, exchanging gifts and creating wonderful memories, children of divorce often have bittersweet feelings as this time of year seems to magnify the reality of their situation.
Elizabeth Einstein, National Stepfamily Educator and author of Strengthening Your Stepfamily, says there are no easy answers, but there are some things adult children of divorce can do to make the holidays easier.
Plan ahead – This is key to getting the holidays off to the right start. There are no rules that say you must visit everyone in the same day. Consider rotating holidays with each family or celebrating on a day other than the designated holiday. Planning in advance also gives family members time to deal with the change.
Have realistic expectations – Expecting the holidays to be as they once were is unrealistic. Temper your dreams with reality. Remember, you can’t please everyone all the time and there are no perfect families. If you try to do everything, the potential for exhaustion, resentment and hurt feelings is high.
Create your own holiday traditions – Create your own way of celebrating the holidays. Maybe you could host an annual get together with friends or attend a special worship service.
Boundaries – Everybody wants some of your time. It is up to you to set boundaries. Be clear about what you will and won’t do.
Ask for support from friends during this time – Find someone in a similar situation who can empathize with you and help you find some creative ways to celebrate.
Be nice to yourself - Make time for a walk, a leisurely gift wrapping session, and doing things you wouldn’t normally do. Where the whole season is about rush, rush, rush, make yours about calm, calm, calm.
For those who feel their loyalty must be divided around the holidays, focusing on the true meaning of the holiday can make it more meaningful. The season is not about presents or rushing around to different houses. It is about love, remembering the good times you’ve had in the past, and creating new memories with the ones you care about. The stress may not always disappear, but it can be more manageable if you have a plan you can execute with confidence and creativity.