Divorce, Children, Families and the Holidays
When spouses with children divorce, everyone is impacted. Grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends will all feel the aftermath of the divorce. Holidays can be stress-filled, uncomfortable and challenging.
Long standing family holiday traditions inevitably change when a divorce happens. Your ex-in-law’s support and loyalty will most likely go to your ex-spouse, their son or daughter. Although your ex in-laws may still have deep feelings for you, they are in a very uncomfortable position. Your parents and siblings will tend to be supportive and loyal to you and they will likely experience the same discomfort when it comes to your ex-spouse. It is unlikely that you and your ex will be invited to attend family gatherings together. Depending on the circumstances, your ex in-laws may ask to get together with you separately at another time.
Unless you didn’t particularly care for the old holiday traditions, saying good-bye to celebrating with in-laws and other family traditions can be very difficult. During or post divorce, you may be tempted to try to celebrate the holidays exactly the same as they were celebrated prior to the separation. This can be a slippery slope. In my personal experience, when it comes to divorce, I have observed as children from 5 to 18 years old held on to the hope that mom and dad would get back together. Your intentions may be good; you want to protect the children from experiencing emotional pain. On the other hand, your intentions, even if they are unconscious, may not be altruistic at all and have roots in some very selfish desires. It may take some deep soul searching to identify your true motives.
I know it’s not easy to be honest and forthright with your children regarding the effects of the divorce on their lives. But it is a far better approach. We cannot nor should we try to protect our children from every disappointment. Recognizing that divorce is painful and disruptive teaches everyone involved that marriage is not to be entered into lightly or tossed aside easily when the way gets rough. The truth is, the kids suffered when the divorce was announced and they will continue to experience the fallout at various levels for the rest of their lives. If we pretend on the outside that everything is wonderful, everyone is happy and all is forgiven when the opposite is true, we stuff down our true feelings, teach our children to deny their own feelings and we all become emotionally numb. It is impossible to connect with each other on a deep level if we are out of touch with and do not feel free to acknowledge our own feelings about the world and the people around us.
Instead of trying to maintain the old holiday traditions, use the divorce as an opportunity to start new family traditions. You may be able to incorporate some of yours or the children’s favorite aspects of the old traditions into your new way of celebrating. During the holidays, allow yourself and the children to express, in emotionally healthy ways, any feelings that come to the surface. Those feelings are all part of the healing process. When we stuff our feelings down, they come out in other unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. One word of caution, remember to keep disparaging remarks about your ex to yourself. Those issues should never be discussed with children.
Divorce is not easy and it changes everything. Clinging too tightly to the past whether it is people or holiday traditions, prevents us from being available to new people and experiences.