Tips for Handling the Holiday Break Alone
Q: This is my third holiday break splitting time with my children’s other parent. This year seems harder. The kids want to do different things with their friends, their dad seems to have half the school break tied up with a special trip, and I feel left out. There is very little time for me to make the holiday break special. I’m sad, exhausted and struggling to find a way to stay connected through the holidays.
A: First of all, you’ve started at the right place. This is difficult for you and will require some changes in your expectations and planning from years past. It might feel unnatural, but try starting with yourself as you make a plan for the holiday break. You know what you have always enjoyed about the holidays. Think about what you can do without your children that helps you focus on what is important about this time for you. Yes, you will miss the children. When you are overwhelmed by that feeling, remember how you have handled it every time they have been with their dad instead of you. The most important thing is not to let sadness rob you of the good time you will have with them and yourself or others over the holiday season.
I am hearing that you have accepted, perhaps with regret and resignation, that the holidays are about your children and you do not want your needs to ruin the fun for them. It sounds as if there will be some special time for you and your children. If you haven’t already had this conversation, talk with them about how you all can keep your most special traditions, while honoring their opportunities to visit with friends and other family members. Make sure that you plan some special time together as a family, and also with each of your children individually. The sooner you know where you fit in to your children’s break and can plan either with or without them for that time, the better.
Many people force themselves to go to every party or dinner and do things they would never want to do out of a fear of being alone over the holidays. Often, they find it makes things even worse. They miss their children and are miserable with what they are doing. If this is the case with you, you might find it a good time to either plan a short trip to visit friends or to plan a special staycation. Some see it as an opportunity to get a big project completed and other moms find an evening with good food, a clean, quiet house with fresh clean sheets on the bed, a long bubble bath and a few chick flicks or comedies can help. Others take this time for calling (skyping) friends and family, reading, writing, knitting, going to coffee shops or practicing a new hobby.
Make sure that the plan you are working with is the same one your children’s father is using. It is best to head off any confusion by communicating directly. At the same time, you can coordinate gifts. It is no fun if you and your ex give the children the same things. They might have told you both what they wanted to make sure that someone got them what they wanted most.
This might be part of what is difficult about the holidays. It forces you not only to deal with your ex, but perhaps his new partner. Depending on the relationship you have with your ex’s family, you may or may not want to be part of helping your children with gift purchases for their father. If it is too tough for you, ask a friend or family member to take on that role with your children.
If you have a tradition that includes helping others, such as adopting a family or buying presents for those unable to afford them, plan ahead to keep that spirit of giving or performing some service for others in mind. Your children might know of some needs through their school that all of you can support. It works well if one of their friends is also available to join you in the tradition. You may want to make sure that you are willing to include their friends in the holidays just as their friends are starting to include them.
Although we are talking about the two-week winter holiday break now, you may also be thinking ahead to the time when your children have gone off to college or gotten married and begin to juggle holidays with multiple families, friends and in-laws. The flexibility you show now will make a difference as you continue to navigate special events in the future. Your children will not feel caught in the middle between you and their dad; they will feel loved and supported and thankful that you remain present without putting pressure on them. Every year may not look like a past year, but if the relationships and planning have been full of excitement about being together and making sure the most important elements are present, then it works.
After the holidays are over, find out from each child what made this year special. Remember it for next year. Continue to keep the communication lines open between you, your family and your children’s other parent so the planning gets easier and the children don’t have to negotiate every holiday with tension and anxiety. That is the biggest gift you can give them.
The best gift you give yourself is keeping both your needs for support and a special holiday and your desire to support your children in mind each year. What makes holidays good for you alone? What makes them good for the family? Take time to plan for each and successfully balance both every year.