1. Plan holiday celebrations: Planning ahead helps- divorce, separation or death can complicate holidays and special events. With your children, decide how and with whom your family will observe holiday celebrations. Schedule holiday visits and get-togethers with the children in mind; do not rush from one house to another.
2. Anticipate potential difficult moments: Before a family gathering, make sure everyone understands that the children and family ties are the focus of the get-together. If there’s bitterness because of a separation or divorce, establish clear-cut ground rules up front that prohibit name-calling, taking sides or verbal bashing of any family members. Unfortunately, the holidays can bring disappointments to children. Sit down and talk with your children; ask them how they feel. Some children will choose to ignore the offense. Others might decide to write a note to the person explaining how their actions have affected them.
3. Acknowledge your loss: You will enhance the true meaning of the season for your children and build good memories for them to enjoy in the future. Remember to take time out from hustle and bustle of the season to talk about the loss or to discuss some of the changes that have – or will occur. Ask the children how they feel and listen to what they say. Encourage positive reminiscences.
4. Be conscious of your feelings: Your attitude toward your former or deceased spouse sets the tone for the children; an undercurrent of animosity or anxiety will torpedo the holidays for them. Always try to see how things play out through their eyes. You will give your children one of the best gifts ever if you rise above the situation and put their emotional needs first. You may be overwhelmed with negative feelings and anxieties, but don’t burden your children with them.
5. As a family, discuss old and new traditions: Healthy families change. Establishing new holiday traditions builds connections and rekindles the sense of commitment you have toward each other. This year, talk with your children about new ways you can observe the holidays; new traditions don’t have to be expensive or elaborate.
6. Be realistic about your capabilities: Rather than bemoan what’s no longer possible, focus on the positive. Prioritize your family’s needs, make choices and explain your decisions to the children. The most important memory you can give your children this holiday season is time spent together.
7. Decide how you’ll spend your free time: Instead of sitting alone in a house of absolute silence, schedule activities for your free time. Volunteer to help those in need or spend time with a close friend while your children are away.
The seven steps were designed to help you navigate smoothly through the holiday season. Each child’s holiday season will differ, be sure to adapt the steps to their unique individual needs.
For program information or site locations, call 800-266-3206 or visit www.rainbows.org.
About the author: Suzy Yehl Marta is the founder and President of Rainbows For All Children (www.rainbows.org),an international nonprofit organization that helps kids going through life’s storms, such as a death of a parent or divorce. Since 1983, Rainbows has supported more than 2.5 million children in 17 countries and all 50 states. Suzy is the author of “Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope,” and has conducted 100+ media interviews on the topic of grief and support.