The holidays are often a time of joy and celebration for families across the nation, but when a family is in the midst of undergoing a change in dynamics it can be a time of dread and consternation. It is difficult enough coping with the loss of a nuclear family unit, but the stress of the holidays exacerbates this already trying time. The loss of tradition is highlighted, and everyone feels the pressure to do what is expected of them, while inwardly mourning the loss of years past. So how should families who have been reconstituted into two households manage this time of year and create a healthy environment for themselves and their children moving forward? 

(1) Cherish the Memories of the Past: Some people cope with loss by pretending their past does not exist, but masking history will only cause it to surface in unhealthy ways, such as unresolved guilt in parents and acting out in children. See the goodness in past relationships and old memories, but accept that for the reasons unique to your particular situation, the past can no longer be resuscitated.

It may have been wonderful at that time because you or your spouse were in a different place of life or because your children were young. Certain magic cannot be recreated with or without your old traditions. That was a special time and a special place. Mourning its loss or attempting to reenact it with the same or different people today will only leave you feeling empty and emphasize the pangs of loss. We cannot control change, but we can control the future we build

(2) Create New Traditions: While you should appreciate the past, don’t do so at the expense of your future. If you always had Christmas at Aunt Sally’s, take the kids on a weekend trip to the water park.  Shake it up. Go on a hot chocolate tour, cook a holiday meal themed around another country’s dishes, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or go out for a fancy dinner. Whether its you and a new significant other or you are with the kids, fully appreciate those around you. Don’t lose your joy. Make new memories and love with all of your heart irrespective of any loss

If you have minor children, you may now have to share them on holidays. Traditionally many parents rotate which year they have the children on days such as the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. They may split up days like Christmas Eve/Christmas Day and New Years Eve/New Years Day. Be flexible. This may mean that you have a big feast on the day before or after Thanksgiving or your child gets to wake up to having Santa bring toys twice. Kids love celebrating twice and are often more resilient than we think they are. Adults get caught up with calendars, kids just want to have fun

(3) Reach Out To Extended Family: When we are busy raising a family, or dealing with stressors at home when a relationship is failing, we tend to ignore our extended family. There is simply only some much time and energy a person has to give. As a nuclear family begins to degenerate many spouses avoid other relatives because they do not want this tension to become apparent or they are so stressed that they have no desire to socialize and be gay. Catch up with your siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins. Take a weekend trip to visit a relative who is out of state. The support of your loved ones from the past is important during times of transition

(4) Communicate Your Plans: Don’t torment your spouse by trying to keep the kids away. Don’t try and get the upper hand by spoiling their plans. And certainly, don’t put your children in the middle of the fray. Be flexible. Ensure that you and your spouse are both able to get ample quality time with the kids and make sure that your children know what to expect. Keep them in the loop of the plans so that they don’t feel like they are waiting for mom and dad to decide on who is with them and being uncertain as to where they are going, when, and with who. No matter how bad the communication has degenerated between you and your spouse, keep the dialogue freely flowing with your children

At the end of the day, the holidays can be a very trying time, but there are certain things that you can do to lessen the stress and anxiety that accompanies this time of year. Talk to your lawyer about steps you can take to help solidify your holiday parenting time schedule and how to minimize any tension that accompanies exchanges. 

About the Author:

Marie Sarantakis is the Principal Attorney of the Sarantakis Law Group, Ltd. in Western Springs, Illinois. Sarantakis is currently Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division’s and General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Section’s Family Law Committees. She is also an appointed member of the Illinois State Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.

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