We all look forward to the holiday season. Traditions developed around holidays build a collective family memory that binds us together uniquely and permanently. We bring the traditions we learn in our childhoods into our marriages and incorporate them with our spouse’s traditions into a new hybrid tradition. We do this generation to generation creating traditions and cementing the family across generations.
That is not to say there is not stress that mounts up around the holidays. Holidays and family gatherings are classic stress creators, hence the comedic portrayal of the holidays in films that make us all laugh. They make us laugh because we see the kernel of truth in the depiction of holidays gone wrong. Many of these popular “B” movies use a divorced couple with kids with humorous dexterity. Classically, it’s the mom who wants to deprive the often wayward, always pathetic father of time with the kids at the holidays. In the end, Mom sees the error of her ways and Dad is allowed to partake in holiday joy.
The reality of divorce and the holidays, unfortunately and often, is not far different than these comedic depictions. It is said that the three greatest life stressors are: selling a home, experiencing the death of a loved one and divorce. Although a stressor of lesser intensity, holidays are in themselves stress inducing events. Unfortunately, those aspects of the holidays that make them so important to family building also make them stressful, especially if you are the one responsible for the holiday magic. In divorce those newly cobbled traditions erode and frequently both spouses vie to take over the holiday.
The battle over the holiday puts the kids in the middle. While each parent thinks their traditions are more important, usually the kids are just hoping for some stability and for parents who are able to make the holiday joyful during difficult times. Here is a holiday formula for you to consider: Stop for a minute when considering how to handle your holiday. Do not consider yourself, but look at your solutions from a child-centered view. What would your kids like? Usually in a new separation the answer is likely that they want their parents back together. This is probably not going to happen but that does not mean that the kids cannot see their parents working together to make the holidays enjoyable for all. The point is, your family is in transition and new traditions are likely to emerge based on where you and your extended family live in relationship to your spouse. Psychological studies clearly show that children raised in divorced families mature and grow as well as children raised in intact families where the parents get along and where time is shared between the parents. I am not speaking of those matters where abuse issues raise safety issues but in the vast majority of cases where abuse is not an issue.
As you develop these new traditions, try not to count hours. Think about the flow of the children and how they would most enjoy the holiday. Does your spouse’s father dress up as Santa to the amazement and amusement of the kids? Does your mom make the best home made chocolate in the world? If you arrange your holiday with your kids’ joy in mind, will give them the greatest gift of all.