by Barbara Badolato, CSW.
Ingredients: managed expectations, sensitivity, self-care and gratitude.
The holidays are usually a time to feel overloaded and under-appreciated. That is especially true of people going through a separation or divorce. Advance planning, finesse and flexibility are required to make the holidays a more joyful time for yourself and your children.
Let’s take the first ingredient – managed expectations. This includes your own. If you are constantly comparing this year’s holidays with holidays past when times perhaps were happier and calmer, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If you’re not particularly in the holiday spirit, give yourself permission to forego some of the festivities, where possible. Just let the hosts know in advance.
When children are involved, it’s important to prepare them in advance. Discuss plans, including where they’ll be spending the holidays, and in the case of older children, give them a say. Then, don’t deviate from those plans unexpectedly. The same holds true for gift-giving: Let the kids know you’ve got a budget, then stick to it. Promising them gifts you cannot afford won’t soften the blow of the divorce and will only put you in a financial hole.
If you’ll be spending the holiday with your former spouse, make it clear to your kids this in no way signals you’re getting back together, but that you both still want to enjoy the holidays with them.
More than a feeling
The need for sensitivity is important year-round, but is paramount during this season when emotions run especially high. First, check in with your own emotions. Be aware that you may have the impulse to react disproportionately to any real or imagined slights. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt – they may not be trying to hurt you. Next, even if your split is amicable, your friends may not know whether to invite you as a couple to gatherings. You may be left off of invitation lists. Know that your friends are trying hard not to isolate or insult you, but are at a loss how to behave.
Your children need to know that it’s OK to have feelings of sadness and loss. They are surrounded by images of happy, intact, two-parent families and it is natural for them to even feel anger or resentment. Let them give voice to these feelings, while remaining neutral and supportive. Try not to take these emotional outbursts personally. Even if your kids are acting angry with you, anger often is a mask for grief.
Be your own best friend
It’s all too easy to bury yourself in the bustle of shopping, decorating, cooking and entertaining, only to feel resentful and overextended in the process. No one but you knows exactly what you need to feel better. You have the power to make that happen. That includes minding your own well-being by getting enough rest, exercising regularly, eating healthfully, and finding some quiet time to think your thoughts.
Another way to take good care of yourself is to recognize when you’re nearing your own limits. When your nerves start to feel frazzled, rather than push through, take a break and do something that will replenish you. In this season of constantly doing, sometimes it’s important to just be still.
Appreciation an antidote
With all the ads and commercials reminding us of what we lack, it’s especially important now to remind ourselves of all that we already have. Although counting our blessings may sound trite, becoming grateful for such simple things as loving relationships with friends and family, a peaceful home, a job that brings us satisfaction or good health helps keep us grounded in what’s really important.
We wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah, and most of all, we wish you peace.
Barbara Badolatois a certified social worker and a partner at Divorce Mediation Professionals. She has twenty-five years of experience working with couples in divorce mediation, and she specializes in the emotional aspects and financial concerns of couples going through separation and divorce. She is active in the training and continuing education of other mediators in the field and has made numerous presentations at programs and conferences sponsored by The New York State Council on Divorce Mediation, The Academy of Family Mediators and the Family and Divorce Mediation Council of Greater New York. Barbara has been affiliated with Stony Brook University School of Social Work as a field instructor, and is also in private practice working with individuals and doing couple’s therapy.