The holidays can be a challenging time for everyone. For divorced couples, they can be especially contentious. But they don’t have to be.
The typical image of divorce involves hostile ex-spouses, fraught holidays, and a desire to see each other as little as possible.
But for many ex-couples throughout the country, that stereotype is rapidly changing.
Many exes are forging their own way, creating memories for their kids, and getting along well in the process. You can too, even if it’s not as easy as you wish it was.
Here are a few tips for getting along during the holidays.
Consider Whether Celebrating With Your Ex is the Right Move
Most people consider doing this for the sake of kids. But this is really case-by-case, and the right answer is different for every family
If you and your ex-spouse are able to get along for the period of time required, sometimes celebrating some or all of the holidays together can be a great thing for kids.
It can give them a sense of continuity and togetherness that may be missing at other times of year.
But if your relationship with your ex is very contentious, it may be a mistake to celebrate the holidays together. The holidays can be a high-stress time even for happy couples, and both you and the kids may find the heightened tension hard to deal with.
So gauge the situation and make the decision you feel is right. You don’t have to follow a specific template that says it’s unhealthy to spend a holiday with your ex, or give in to pressure to spend the holidays together when you know it’s too soon.
Make Plans Early
You can cut down on your stress by communicating with your ex-spouse and figuring out holiday plans earlier rather than later, so there are fewer last-minute surprises.
This gives you time to discuss each person’s concerns, deal with the kids’ feelings, and resolve challenges ahead of time.
Try to Avoid Speaking Negatively About Your Ex to Family
It’s natural for strong feelings to surface with regard to your divorce around the holidays, and during any time of year.
But if part of your plan is for your ex-spouse to be involved in your holiday celebrations for the sake of the kids, they may be spending some of that time around your family. Bad-mouthing your ex leading up to these days can only make the environment more tense.
If you need to vent, consider talking to a close friend who isn’t involved in your holiday celebrations—or a therapist.
Keep All Discussions in the Present
When you’re fresh out of a contentious divorce, it’s very common to hold on to past grievances—it’s part of being human.
But bringing up the past with your ex-spouse during the holidays is unlikely to lead to a constructive discussion and very likely to result in an argument.
Try to enact a rule, just for the holidays: keep all conversations with your ex in present tense.
Don’t bring up past issues when you have a disagreement about the holiday arrangements and don’t be baited into a conversation about the past.
This is a good rule to stick to at other parts of the year as well. But it’s not always easy and enacting it for a limited time over the holidays may be good practice.
Keep Things Focused on the Kids
This is a good tip for any time of year, but especially during the holidays, it can help to keep your communications with your ex-spouse focused on the children.
This will help you both stay away from contentious topics that might result in an argument. It will give you something to talk about, and a ready subject-change topic if your ex-spouse starts taking things in a contentious direction.
Don’t Break the Other Spouse’s Rules
Another way ex-spouses may create a contentious environment over the holidays is by breaking each other’s rules.
For instance, one parent says the kids aren’t allowed to have one particular toy. The other parent conveniently “forgets” and buys it for them.
This is a way exes undermine each other and gain favor with the kids, especially if the disallowed toy is one the kids really want. But these kinds of tactics can also heighten tensions around the holidays, and make things stressful for the kids.
So if your ex-spouse has a rule about a type of present they don’t want the kids to have, just follow it, even if you don’t agree. It will save you trouble in the long run.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
This can be challenging, but it’s important to maintain communication during the holidays, as well as at other times of the year, when you’re co-parenting.
Treat your ex like a neighbor you don’t know that well – stay respectful and maintain a neutral tone.
Make requests instead of demands, and try to listen even when you disagree. Avoid getting into contentious personal discussions.
Take Care of Yourself
Your mental health is important, too. The holidays can be stressful for everyone in a post-divorce world, but there are things you can do to take care of yourself in these difficult times.
It can help to find a friend, therapist, or other detached third-party to vent to, so you can avoid unloading on family members who may be participating in joint holidays, or on your kids.
And forgive yourself. Especially if your divorce was contentious, the first holiday post-divorce may not be smooth sailing. But if you can keep the focus in the present and on the kids, hopefully you and your ex can establish new traditions that everyone will enjoy.
Remember there are No Rules
One thing that makes the holidays so challenging is that they come with baggage, strict traditions and ideas about what it means to do the holiday “the right way.”
Divorce throws big changes into the mix. But you don’t have to follow the usual script, whatever your idea of that is, if you don’t want to.
Your ex can share in your ongoing traditions, or the two of you can start a brand-new tradition that incorporates a blended family. Or you can negotiate a solution where you both share time with the kids, without having to spend it with each other.
There is no proscribed “right” or “wrong” way, there’s only what works for your family.
Work With an Experienced Divorce Lawyer in Cherokee County
Are you dealing with divorce around the holidays? If so, you need a lawyer who can help you navigate the transition.
Call us at (770) 479-1500 for a confidential consultation. We have evening and weekend appointments available now.
Amanda Speights is a co-founder and lead family law attorney at Speights Law, PC in Cherokee County. She is an experienced family law lawyer who handles an assortment of domestic cases, including divorce, child custody, child support, appeals and other types of litigation in the state of Georgia. To contact Amanda, please visit our contact page.