Dealing with an ex during any normal Wednesday can be a huge struggle, especially when the divorce or break up is somewhat recent, and there is bitterness and anger clouding everyone’s better judgment.
But even years later, holidays seem to bring out the worst in everyone. Here’s why:
- Holidays come with their own set of expectations – Traditions built long ago are suddenly disrupted by the split of your family. And hopes always run high during the holiday season because we all tend to have Hallmark images of how we see the holidays going.
- In-laws are still demanding or at least have their expectations ¬ You and your ex aren’t the only ones with plans. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even friends want to have time with the kids and have their own ideas of how the holidays should go.
- Time is short ¬ There is so much more to do and so many more places to go during the holidays. There is a lot of pressure on the parents to make miracles happen – same 24 hours in a day, yet parties, gift buying, cleaning, family dinners, etc. put a lot of stress on parents.
- Money is tight – Thought you were broke in November? Well December is really going to suck. Christmas puts a financial strain on the best of budgets. Cut that budget in half, yet keep all the same bills and responsibility and this is a recipe for anger, frustration and even fear.
- Emotions are tried – Adults are struggling with loneliness and guilt. Kids are struggling with the same, plus feelings of anger and abandonment. As adults we shoulder the emotional burden for our kids, and end up working even harder to have the most picture perfect holiday ever.
- We are dealing with our ex – No offense to anyone, but if getting along were easy, you would probably still be together. Take the most stressful (and often depressing) time of the year and add in the person with whom you have the most tension and voila: instant crazy town.
And in the end, we just end up angry or soaked in our own tears trying to figure out how in the world we even got here.
I have been divorced for over 10 years, and even though there are times that I want scream and yell and cry when trying to co-parent with my ex, there are strategies that really can help you have a calmer, less exhausting holiday season.
- Stick to the plan – Hopefully you at least have a written parenting plan. I advise you stick to it. Often we begin moving things around to accommodate each other because we are having a good day with our ex. Then the other shoe drops and you are fighting again. A less mature person may take advantage of this situation and go back on the agreement. Now you are really mad! You promised the kids you would take them to see Santa, the North Pole or the White House for Christmas and your ex is taking it all back. If you stick to the plan, you are less likely to be let down, and end up in a battle royale.
- Honor your word – This relates to the first point, but comes into play even more when a written plan is not legally in place. If you agree to a holiday schedule, you better honor it. I don’t care if your ex really yanked your chain. Do not use your child as a pawn, and do not justify doing this by telling yourself and everyone on FB what an ass your ex is. Unless the child is in danger, and you have involved the proper authorities, do what is best by your child and let them see their family. You can sulk on your own time.
- Pair down your plans – If your time is cut in half, do not think you are going to have time to do it all. It is okay to say NO to someone and to turn down invitations. Your children will appreciate you slowing down and taking time to focus on them, versus trying to please every aunt, uncle and cousin from here to Nebraska.
- Evaluate traditions – Not every tradition is worth holding onto with a kung fu death grip. Decide what traditions are worth keeping and consider starting a new one that honors the new dynamics of your family. Be flexible and remember the reason for the holidays.
- Lower your expectations – Trash that perfect image you have of Christmas and replace it with simplicity and love. Remember to create time to read a Christmas book with your kids, to watch your favorite holiday movie (instead of trying to knock out ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas), or make a ginger bread house. Your kids will thank you for it.
- Set a budget – The best Christmas I can remember was just my mom and me in 1985. It was just the two of us, and she told me that money was tight. She bought me a few inexpensive but thoughtful gifts. I was in love with the effort she took to choose gifts that reflected my personality. We had a small tree and a simple Christmas but I still felt important. My point is that just because your kids usually roll around like Scrooge McDuck on Christmas morning tossing around gold coins, does not mean that they really care as much about gifts as you think.
- Consider serving – It is easy during the holidays to focus on everything that is going wrong and everything that life should be but isn’t. But instead of feeling sorry for yourself or your kids, consider serving alone or with them. They will enjoy feeling useful and helpful, and you will be glad you took to the chance to remember that life is still pretty dang good and worth enjoying.
- Don’t include outsiders in your holidays – If you are dating and have a new boyfriend or girlfriend, now is not the time to play house. Focus on your kids. And be mindful of how they feel having near-strangers in their most precious family times. You will have plenty of time to hang out with your beau or love muffin when the kids go to your ex’s house. Don’t be so wrapped up in your loneliness that you make your kids uncomfortable.
- Offer grace – Okay, this is the hard one. Anger, bitterness, sadness and frustration do not take a sabbatical during the holidays. Quite the opposite in fact. But even if your ex prefers cursing, yelling and name calling over adult conversations, you can still take a deep breath, say a prayer, remove yourself from the drama until everyone has cooled down and then start over. Don’t feed the dragon! No matter how your ex behaves this holiday season, you are still responsible for you and your behavior. You will be surprised at how far kindness and grace will go, even with difficult people.
Take care of yourself dear friend. Get lots of rest. Try not to eat every sugary snack you see. Go easy on the liquor. Take time to pray, and spend time with the Lord. The holidays are probably going to be hard. But they don’t have to throw you into a tantrum or full-blown depression.
Seek out healthy people who have been divorced and who are doing okay. Ask for their prayers and accountability. Give them permission to tell you when you are acting crazy. Reach out to people when you are struggling to get up in the morning. Seek counseling when too many mornings have swallowed you back into an abyss or when crying has taken over your life.
You will get through this. It will get easier. Life is hard, but it is worth it. God cares about your struggles and so do your friends. Don’t try to be a hero. Just take it one day at a time. And lastly, please forgive yourself when you screw up. You will. You are human, but you are awesome.
Keep crushing it. Santa and your kids are watching ☺