Who gets the kids for the holidays?


Who gets the kids for the holidaysThe holidays are dear to most of us because they provide an opportunity for families to come together and celebrate. They connect us to familiar rituals and to warm, happy memories from our past. The holidays are part of the larger culture and even if our own memories are less than perfect, we know all too well the gold standard as portrayed in songs, movies and pictures. Most of all, these expectations are about sharing happy times with loved ones.

But not all of us have a “so happy together” holiday season to look forward to. If you’re divorced from your spouse and are facing a holiday without your children, you may feel cheated, confused, and uncertain about how to react and how to celebrate and enjoy the holidays. These feelings are normal, and it’s important to respect them. However, when they result in anger and depression, these feelings can become the source of familial unhappiness and interpersonal conflict.

When we cannot have what we think is ideal, we need to rely on our most cherished values. For parents, this is usually to provide the best possible experience for our children. What do children want and need?  What do you want and need?

It will be tough enough on your children coming to terms with the new situation without getting caught in the middle and having to deal with your emotions too. There could be feelings of anger that the ex-spouse is pulling the children away, or feelings of abandonment and being left out of what used to be a family occasion. Rather than dragging them into the grown-up world of post-separation struggles, do your best to focus on everyone’s emotional needs, and on finding creative solutions to be happy despite the changes and less-than-picture-perfect reality.

Respect and understand the feelings that everyone presents. As I used to say, feelings are “facts.” They just are. But feelings are also fluid that can and do change, and we can change our feelings by changing our thinking. Negative feelings that persist are at best unhelpful and at worst can lead to aggression and negative consequences, not the least of which is poor mental and physical health.

Here are some tips to stay calm and avoid the emotional traps you may find yourself in as you adjust to the new reality of your holiday season:

  1. Remember to relax and enjoy what you do have. One of the ways that we can help ourselves to address negative feelings is to focus instead on what we are grateful for. To “count our blessings,” so to speak. Cultivate acceptance and grace in the face of things that cannot change.
  2. Be excited for your children, even if you really aren’t. You’ll all feel worse if you allow yourselves to dwell on the downside of a holiday apart. So try to encourage a sense of excitement at the prospect of a new way of enjoying the holidays. You might even get caught up in their excitement a little yourself.
  3. Avoid the absolutes of black-and-white thinking. Nothing is perfect, so challenge the “should” you lay on yourself and others. When we say “should” to ourselves, we create unnecessary guilt and stress. When we impose our expectations on others with “must” and “should,” we create feelings of distain, anger and resentment. Replace the “should” with “could,” the “must” with “I wish,” and “perfect” with “good enough.” There can be silver linings. Look for them! Appreciate the positive even when there is negative.
  4. Respond – don’t just react! Try not to assume or jump too quickly to conclusions. Remember that behind anger is often a more precise feeling like disappointment, fear or hurt. Be in touch with your true feelings rather than just being angry.
  5. Be mindful. There are many spiritual practices that can help. One of the practices that has become popular today is mindfulness meditation. Prayer and other spiritual practices are also very powerful approaches.
  6. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust and who will support you. If you just can’t see your way out of what you fear will be a miserable time for you and your children, don’t be afraid to seek the guidance and care of others. Allow your feelings to be validated, and open yourself up to the insight of those who are outside of your situation. Friends and family can be an invaluable source of emotional support, as can your employee assistance counsellor.

For more information and helpful advice, visit workhealthlife.com.



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