Halloween has come and gone. Now that our sugar hangovers have eased, it’s time to think about the upcoming holiday season. This can be a tough time for divorced dads–for both newbies and those who have been through it a time or two.
For fathers dealing with a less-than-ideal custody arrangement, it’s important to have a plan. This helps a great deal in a practical sense as well as in less concrete ways. This time of year especially, it’s vital to maximize your time with the kids and look after your mental and emotional well-being.
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A playbook for surviving the Holidays
For the newly single, the holiday season often feels like a dark cloud looming on the horizon. Parties, family gatherings, and social obligations can leave you overwhelmed.
No one wants to have to recount the messy details of their divorce every time you leave the house. Facing the inevitable questions about your ex, your Aunt Edna trying to set you up with a nice girl from her knitting club, and people asking about if you’ve started dating again. It’s enough to make anyone hunker down until January.
For divorced dads, the holiday season shouldn’t be something that needs to be survived. It’s a time to reflect on the things you’re grateful for and the new opportunities that lie ahead. To help you navigate the coming holidays, we put together a playbook for making the most of the festivities.
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Facing the Family
Does facing your relatives for the first time since the divorce give you night sweats? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Sure, it can be stressful, but before you find yourself face-to-face with the relatives you only see once a year, take time to create a game plan. Identify the players that cause the most stress and evaluate what offensive plays cause the most grief.
Your initial defensive strategy should be executed well in advance of the impending holiday encounter. Depending on the offensive line, you might need to deploy some reinforcements and special teams.
If you have a close relationship with the person causing the stress, address the situation head-on. Tell them their behavior makes you uncomfortable and that you want them to stop. It’s helpful to have an example handy, as occasionally family members are oblivious to the fact that their actions might cause harm.
In the case of extended family members, or ones you don’t have close relationships with, use back up. Ask someone to let them know their behavior is negatively impacting you.
For example, if it’s Aunt Edna, your mom’s sister, again, enlist your mother’s help. She can talk to her sibling and let her know she’s making you uncomfortable. In most cases, your relatives probably aren’t doing anything intentionally.
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Respect your Budget
Divorce drastically changes your financial situation. You often wind up paying child or spousal support, it’s common to have to set up a whole new household, or you simply might have to pay all of the bills from a single paycheck for the first time in years.
It’s common for newly divorced dads to find themselves on a strict budget. Around the holidays, this gets particularly challenging.
During your first holiday season, you may feel the temptation to overspend. Extravagant gifts for the children may seem like a good idea to compensate for the tough time they’ve undoubtedly been through.
Unfortunatley, lavish gifts all too often dig parents a deep hole of debt.
If you and your ex still have a civil relationship, discuss a gift-giving plan for the kids. Set a budget or a specific number of gifts. This often helps limit the inclination to out-gift the other parent. It also helps keep your bank account intact.
If you and your ex don’t have an amicable relationship, you can still respect your budget. Establish how much you can comfortably spend on gifts and stick to that number.
Have an age-appropriate conversation with your kids to establish realistic holiday expectations. This helps alleviate some of the gift-giving pressure. And remember, gifts don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful and show how you feel.
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Know when to say No
The holidays are full of social gatherings, work obligations, parties, and other celebrations. It’s a lot.
It’s tempting to say yes to every invitation that comes your way, especially if you feel lonely. But that often leads to burnout.
Ending a marriage is emotionally and physically draining. Especially in the immediate aftermath. Be selective about the invitations you accept so you don’t wind up overwhelmed and even more exhausted.
Choose gatherings that add to your holiday experience, not detract. Pick events where you know you’ll be surrounded by supporting, understanding friends and family. You will enjoy those much more, and be much less stressed, than at others.
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Do it for the Kids
Keeping your children at the forefront of your decision-making is essential during the holidays. Nowhere is this more important than when you have to interact with your ex.
Keeping the peace goes a long way towards creating a positive experience for your kids. And isn’t that what’s most important?
Keep that in mind and take measures to set a good example for your kids. Choose your battles and minimize conflict. If your ex does things that irritate you, look for ways to find common ground.
Even if it’s intentional, try not to engage or retaliate. It’s not easy–it may not even always be possible–but it’s vital to do what you can for the sake of your children.
Making the effort to have a functional relationship with your ex will be important to your kids. It demonstrates your commitment to them and provides consistency. This is especially true during the holidays.
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