Advice for men dealing with divorce, kids, and the holidays
The holiday season is here, and most of us will be confronted with the inevitable stressors that follow; finding the perfect tree, hunting down the newest Xbox, dealing with unruly relatives. For men dealing with divorce, the holidays are an even bigger hurdle to clear. To help you make the most of it, Divorce Lawyers for Men talked with Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Alison Withey, about what things good men dealing with divorce should keep in mind when they come head-to-head with the holidays.
1. Figure out what’s important
All of us have holiday traditions and rituals. Think about what you’ve done in the past, then sit down and ask yourself, “What’s most important to me during the holidays?” Is it making the perfect pot roast, or icing cookies with your kids? Is going out to the mountains to find the perfect tree, or drinking a beer in the garage with your dad after opening gifts?
“I’m a big believer in rituals,” says Alison. “They anchor us to the past and present moment, and where we’re going in the future.”
Once you know what’s important to you, figure out which of those things you want do this year. Don’t forget to bring the kids in on the brainstorm, suggests Alison. Ask what’s important to them and what they want to do. Creating holiday traditions with your kids is a great way to keep your relationship strong.
2. Remember, court orders are what they are
If you don’t have your kids on the day of the holiday, pick a new date as a family and celebrate then, suggests Alison. It won’t be exactly the same, but your kids only notice if you make a big deal out of it. For them, two holidays are better than one. The fact that you’re with them is what they care about most.
3. Technology is on your side
If you’re far away from your kids, take advantage of technology to stay connected. Make a video with your smart phone of you in a goofy Santa hat singing Christmas songs. Download Skype and chat face-to-face with them. Open presents while you’re talking together on the phone. Remember, your kids will notice the effort you put in. Your effort to be a part of their lives and stay involved is so important, notes Alison. It’s how they know you care.
4. Be smart about your ex
If you haven’t already, you and your ex-partner need to figure out boundaries. During the holidays, you’ll most likely need to communicate. Think about what you need to do to not trigger each other. “Maybe you only communicate by email,” says Alison. Maybe you talk on the phone, but avoid being in the same room. “Remember, this is a highly emotional time for both parents,” says Alison.
5. Don’t push yourself
The holiday season is tough during divorce, and there’s no way around that. You’re going to come up against some hurt, especially when your kids are involved. Know your limits, and pay attention to what you’re feeling.
If you’re about to explode, take a deep breath. Give yourself space to let it out. If you can’t do that because your stuck at a table with your family, set it to the side. Say, “I’m setting this to the side, and I’ll deal with this later.” Be present in the moment so you can do the right thing.
Don’t hesitate to leave a situation that’s too heated. Go on a walk or take a quick drive. Decompress. You’ll be glad you kept your cool.
6. It’s okay to be sad
“Be real about being sad,” says Alison. Don’t hide your emotions from yourself or your kids. Make sure the kids know you’re taking good care of yourself. If they see you taking care of yourself, and being honest about your feelings, they’ll know it’s okay to share their feelings with you.
7. Let your kids talk about the other parent
It’s tough, but your kids love both of you. Don’t talk bad about your ex in front of your kids or get angry when your kids tell you stories about them. “Then they can talk about that other piece of their life,” says Alison. “Don’t shame that parent because it’s half of who they are.” Your kids will be more grateful than you know.
8. Don’t be a loner
Most importantly, remember not to spend the holidays alone. Keep friends around you. Get in contact with your old buddies, and stay in-touch with your relatives. There are tons of people who care about you. Spending the holidays watching re-runs of “A Christmas Story” alone in your recliner may be tempting, but you’ll be happier you decided to spend it with family and friends.
Remember to stay optimistic, and let good things happen. Divorce is hard, but the holidays can still be great, even if it’s in a different way than before.
Special thanks to Seattle-based LMHC Alison Withey for her contribution to this article. You can find more information about Alison and her practice at alisonwithey.com