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The holiday season is rife with harsh memories and emotions, especially for disunited families, that can leave some single parents – and their children – feeling overwhelmed. Care for yourself during the holidays by managing stressors in healthy ways.
- Focus on the Future
Nostalgia and the holidays go hand-in-hand, but reminiscing on what was quickly turns to what could have been. Instead of harkening to Christmases past, channel the spirit of one of boxing’s greatest legends:
“Don’t count the days,” quipped Muhammad Ali. “Make the days count.”
Give yourself a reason to get hyped about the season. Set up your house in way that will make a big impression on all your guests, kids included. What do you want them to remember down the road? Put those experiences in motion before they enter your door.
Buy the supplies for making gingerbread houses. Have yarn or twine and candy canes ready to string on the tree. Have hats and gloves and equipment for sledding or make snowmen together. Set those traditions in motion to keep celebrations alive regardless of the specific dates you see your kids.
But also be sure to not turn the holidays into a competition with the other parent. Don’t try to outdo mom or dad – kids quickly catch on that it’s not about them, but about trying to make the other parent look bad.
What about dads (or moms!) who don’t see their children? Don’t underestimate the impact of a letter, a gift, a photo or other treasures you can send your kids at Christmas. If you’re worried your ex won’t deliver them, make two sets. Mail one to their house and one to your own you can save and deliver in person when they are older.
- Involve Extended Family … Within Limits
The more loving, healthy people in your children’s lives, the better! Extended family loves to go overboard and can help fill your little ones with a sense of holiday wonder.
Do be aware that excessive gift-giving can trigger feelings of insecurity in parents who can’t buy their children much. Fight the urge to tell your parents to stop and ask your ex to be understanding. Many grandparents do this regardless of their kids’ marital status (and most grandchildren love it!)
So, where do the limits come in? When it comes to time. Make sure you schedule some activities to share alone with your children. This is especially true if you have younger children with a new partner. Kids who don’t live with you year-round need and deserve special time alone with their non-custodial parent. Really, traditions as simple as making hot chocolate together in the mornings can be something special you share without detracting from your other relationships.
- Yes, It’s Usually Better to Acknowledge the Other Parent
You don’t have to like your ex in order to be respectful toward them in front of the children. In fact, those small gestures do more to boost your child’s self-esteem than anyone else’s. Make sure you allow mom to send gifts for under the tree if the kids are with you on Christmas. Also, encourage your child to give their other parent a call on the big day, when possible.
Sometimes, contact will do more to disrupt a child’s experience. You can still encourage them to be thoughtful. Set aside some of the cookies you’ve baked together. Take funny photos. Have your child keep a Christmas diary or make an ornament for the tree in their other home.
Not only does keeping your kids’ other parent in mind encourage a healthy co-parenting relationship, but it prevents your children from being distracted by guilt.
- End Your Celebrations on a Positive Note
Whether you’ll see your children in a few days or a few months down the road, it’s important to end your holidays on a happy note. Science tells us it’s easier to change anxiety into excitement than to stop worrying completely. So, put that research to use. If you and your children start planning for the next trip before this one ends, you’ll be primed to make more wonderful memories as soon as you get the chance.
Navigate these tough parenting issues and more with help from fathers’ rights attorney and advocate, Anne Mitchell, author of They’re Your Kids Too: The Single Father’s Guide to Defending Your Fatherhood in a Broken Family Law System.