Most people share a similar vision for the perfect Christmas. Typical ingredients include devoted family members lovingly exchanging gifts, laughs and conversations, while the young children squeal with delight when opening their presents. Unfortunately, divorced parents are usually court ordered to share visitation rights over Christmas. As a result, each parent misses the joy of being with their children Christmas every other year.
Holidays needn’t be an annually repeated disappointing and angst ridden experience. Instead, consider making a new tradition by inviting your ex-spouse to your home for the holiday celebration. Swallow your pride, hurt feelings, and anger. Remember that you’re not asking for a reconciliation. Keep your eye on the goal: spending the holidays with your children rather than longingly wishing they were with you.
For this plan to work, several details must first be resolved.
1. Agree to not fight
Tell your ex-spouse that you plan to put aside your personal issues, and you hope that he/she will do the same. Fighting may have become the most familiar manner in which the two of you know how to communicate with each other. Plan ahead to not get sucked in if your ex-spouse ‘pushes your buttons’.
2, Recognize that you cannot control other people, just yourself.
What you can control is how you choose to react to others. If your ex-spouse communicates in a negative way, it does not mean that you must respond in kind. Rather, respond in a way that is consistent with how you want to be. Do not allow other people to define you.
3. Assume 100 percent of the responsibility for making the holiday work.
This is not the time to focus on blaming your ex-spouse. Instead, focus on what you need to do or say to make others feel comfortable and welcome. Surprisingly, you may find that your commitment to assuming responsibility will have a positive impact on your ex-spouse. Your ex-spouse will find that he or she does not have to be defensive, and instead may respond to you in a more generous, accepting manner.
4. Let go of toxic feelings.
Do you continue to harbor hostile feelings towards your ex-spouse? If so, these feelings are toxic to you. Consider reframing your thoughts into a more constructive perspective. Can you find sympathy for your ex-spouse? Can you decide you no longer choose to invest that type of anger? Can you ask yourself how old that anger tape is in your head that has been playing, and if it is relevant any longer? Remember that you are choosing to be in the same room with your ex-spouse because of your children. It is no longer about winning or losing, but about making the children happy.
5. Invite a ‘holiday orphan’ to join in your holiday celebration.
Do you know someone from the neighborhood or work that has no place to go for the holiday? It is always a kind gesture to think about others who would otherwise be alone. In addition, introducing someone new in the mix can keep everyone’s party manners in the forefront, thereby keeping tempers in check and interrupting negative family dynamics.
If you do not have custody of your children on Christmas, and inviting your ex-spouse over is not possible, there is no reason why you cannot celebrate Christmas with your children on an alternative date. Meanwhile, plan ahead and fill the traditional holiday with an activity that is positively exciting. Take advantage of ski slopes being less crowded. Or catch up on those movies you always meant to see. Refuse to dwell on yourself pity and instead do something kind for someone less fortunate.
Modeling cooperation and maturity is far better for your children than having them exposed to unhappy, competing, bickering parents. Building a new tradition for your family of tolerance and inclusiveness is the gift that keeps giving. Your efforts and behavior will not go unnoticed on your children, and this will become the Norman Rockwell painting of their childhood.
Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW is a Board Certified Coach in private practice. For inquiries about telephone sessions, email her at Eileen@LensonLifeCoaching.com or visit her website at www.LensonLifeCoaching.com.