Happy Holidays…(Even in Divorce)

Happy Holidays…(Even in Divorce)

The holiday season is an amazing time of year. Not only does it seem to arrive sooner than expected, it also creates added stress, time commitments, financial obligations and don’t forget the need to navigate family dynamics. Throw divorce into the mix and now you’re really having fun! I think the idea for spiked eggnog grew out of all these stressors.

You too can navigate this season like a pro. Having lived this experience personally, I’ll share some tips that helped my family get through this time of year and create some great experiences.

Create & Embrace New Traditions: Shrimp Scampi and Pumpkin Pie Anyone?
As a single dad, I shared custody of our two children. As a result, the kids were with me every other Thanksgiving. As I approached my first Thanksgiving without the kids, I had to come up with an alternate plan. The person I was dating (who became my wife) was in the same predicament. Turkey dinner for two? Nope. Hang out with our Moms/Dads? (We love them dearly, but that was ruled out as well.)

Instead, we decided to skip family Thanksgiving and hangout together. We started with a nice breakfast and after watching some parades we settled into the couch and started watching movies. Our afternoon snacks consisted of cheese/crackers and sparkling wine. We went for a walk and then came back just in time for an afternoon nap. (Jealous yet?) Dinner was Shrimp Scampi out of the Barefoot Contessa Homestyle Cookbook. Okay, we did eat pumpkin pie so we’re not complete heretics.

What grew out of this experience was a new tradition. While we don’t stay at home, watch movies, and slurp sparkling wine all day, we did start making travel plans in our “off” years. Trips to Florida, New York City, and Asheville North Carolina have given us wonderful memories.

The bigger point is that there can be a silver lining to the holiday season. Even in the best of times, holidays can be stressors from just the sheer hustle/bustle. Kids feel it too. From their perspective, they have to bounce back and forth among families and friends. Take advantage of the gift of being “off the radar” and focus on what you enjoy most. It is a great opportunity to re-charge your batteries.

Make Plans & Communicate Well in Advance:
Unfortunately, divorce adds an unanticipated layer of planning complexity. Sure, the parenting plan spells out your formal holiday schedule, but not everyone in the family or your friends follows the same schedule as you. Special celebrations or events appear on the schedule and can be hard to navigate last minute if you are trying to comply with the parenting schedule.

If you have a holiday tradition of going to the Nutcracker or go to a special party of some kind, find out dates/times and pick one consistent (if possible) when it is your time with the kids. Get it on the calendar and communicate with the other parent. It increases your odds of unanticipated conflicts. If you have to pick a date that is not “yours” on the parenting schedule, time is your friend. By not springing this on the other parent at the last minute, you improve your chances of flexible scheduling.

Don’t Over Extend Financially – Focus on the Experience
Holidays and year-end in general tends to be a “high spend” period. We buy gifts for family friends and charitable requests ramp up too. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and overspend. Don’t. Develop a budget for holiday spending and stick to it as best as possible. Remember that the success of Christmas or Hanukah is not solely dependent on your efforts alone. They will receive gifts from other family most likely.

Focus on one or two special items instead of everything on the wish list. Another good plan is to focus on an “experience”. Let’s face it. Do most kids need a new phone, video game, or latest fashion? Perhaps, but the answer is likely doubtful.

One tradition we started in our family was “Family Fun Day”. We picked a day around the holidays and make everyone clear their schedule. We limit the use of phones, but the day consists of making cookies, usually some event we do as a family, and then back home for dinner/game night and often times a viewing of Elf or Polar Express. As the kids have grown older, the events have changed. We’ve gone from bowling and making gingerbread houses to bar hopping once the kids were all legal. Judge me if you will regarding my parenting choices, but I promise you’d have fun if you joined us!

Final Thoughts
No question, holidays can be tough even in the best of times. Divorce can and will interfere with holiday traditions. However, many of us have a choice. We can either cry in our eggnog or perhaps try something different. Divorce became an unexpected positive catalyst for the holidays. You can thank me later for helping you dodge that dry turkey breast.

Happy Holidays!

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