"5 Steps for the Divorcing Couple to take to Maintain Grace and Sanity"

As a marriage and divorce mediator, I find that the holidays are the most difficult issue for every couple to address while putting their desires into their new agreement.  What looks good and equitable on paper doesn’t always feel the same in real life. They may be stressed by not being with their children or previous family members they once felt close to. And although they may like the idea of no longer having to attend their ex’s family gatherings, they may be more anxious about letting their children go without them.

Handling holiday celebrations is a challenge for most families, but for divorcing or separating families, the stress meter can go off the charts. Along with handling the usual dance recitals, church programs, office gatherings, cookie baking, gift buying, holiday concerts and such, parents must now live within a separation or divorce agreement which may not have seemed so difficult at the time they made it. And because there are so many emotions tied up in the holidays, the upcoming weeks may feel daunting without some strategies for you to use along the way:

1.  Think about what your expectations of the holidays might be. Write them down if necessary. After you have written everything down, read them out loud to yourself or to a trusted friend, family member or counselor. Try to find someone who doesn’t just agree with everything you said, but is able to be impartial. Are these expectations real? Are they a replaying of expectations from your own childhood, or someone else’s?

2. Look at the parenting agreement that you made when you weren’t in the midst of holiday frenzy, and read it carefully. Be sure you have a clear understanding with your ex. If you have a difficult time speaking with each other, bring in a professional mediator who can help you deal with the potential conflicts and confusion.

2. If you are dating someone, do not include your children in their plans. Remember the movie “4 Christmases?”  There is nothing that will ruin a child’s holiday faster than fast-tracking a new relationship. Plus, your children will often feel guilty that they are not with the other parent, especially if that parent has a smaller family system or is alone.

3. Expect the best outcome instead of the worst. Picture yourselves getting along, both providing a wonderful holiday experience for your children and believing that good things will happen. It’s when we put too much energy into trying to block all the perceived “bad things” from happening that we end up with a disaster.

4. Be kind to yourself,  and maybe start some new traditions. Stop living in the past or competing with your ex. Let go of things that made you stress over the holidays before, and begin to do things differently that lighten your mood and make you cheerful to be around. Instead of dressing up, eat in your pj’s (only at home, please!). Instead of china, use paper plates.

5. Think of what one of my wise sons advised me when I was feeling guilty about my own divorce: ‘”It isn’t about what we have, don’t have or about creating a perfect experience –  it is about sharing time together and enjoying each other's company.”

~Wendy Pegan, Relationship Builder



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