Although the holidays are supposed to be filled with love, family time and joy, this time of year can be very challenging for couples on the verge of separating. It’s a well-known fact that more separations happen in January than any other month of the year. Since it’s rare that the decision to separate is made on the spur of the moment, this means most couples who separate in the new year are just hanging on until the holidays are over. Many couples with children express that they want to wait until after the holidays before separating in order to protect their children. Christmas is supposed to be a festive time and they don’t want to ruin it for their kids. This is certainly a personal decision that can make a lot of sense, but sometimes just ‘knowing’ this decision can be challenging as you look to survive this busy period of being ‘together’.
How to give the gift of ‘hanging in there’, while you are hanging on
Safety first: You should make sure there are no concerns around safety, the possibility of violence or intense conflict. If you have these concerns – then you should seek professional help immediately.
Know your limits: Knowing that you are both putting on a false front, limiting your engagements might be a good idea. Sit down with your spouse and look at all of your obligations/commitments. Maybe this is the year to cut back on some of the extra visits and parties. With everyone putting on a shield to ‘pretend’, recognize that you may only have so much energy in your shield to face relatives. Give yourselves permission not to attend some events.
To tell or not tell: So should you tell the children? While this is an individual choice for parents to make together, most parents tell us that they don’t want to spoil the holidays for the kids. Their concern is that the kids will forever remember the separation and associate it with the holiday season. It’s ok to postpone telling the kids until the time is right. Seek professional help from a counselor or divorce mediator in order to ensure you use the right language when telling the kids. There are quite a number of books and recommended readings for parents facing separation.
Curtail the urge to over spend: Sit down with and take a hard look at your finances. It is tempting to over indulge the kids out of a feeling of guilt. But if you are carrying credit card and line of credit balances, now is not the time to add more debt. Financial changes are on the horizon; so it’s key to keep the spending within affordable limits. Be creative with gift giving. Remember that children are more likely to appreciate honesty. “I don’t think we are going to be able to swing it this year”.
Make time off the gift of ‘presence’: You’re about to spend 4 or 5 days off work - together. Try to plan child-focused activities. Let’s face it - if you know this is going to be the last Christmas together, you can approach that with a sense of dread, or make the most of it with a positive attitude. Giving your children the gift of your time, whether it’s tobogganing, skating, games will create some positive, long lasting memories.
No fight zone: If you’ve already decided to wait until next month, make a pact NOT to talk about it during the holidays. Limbo is the most difficult part of change and most people want to ease this pain by digging into the research, the planning and the financial calculating of what will happen next. Since you are not going to be able to actually solve any of these problems during the holidays, agree that you won’t talk about the house, the finances, the children’s parenting schedule until the new year. You certainly don’t want your kids to remember this Christmas as the year mom and dad were fighting all the time.
Peace of mind: Preparing is good, we all want certainty about our future. But stressful emotions can cloud our ability to think clearly. And it can get worse by working with the wrong information or hearsay. So here’s an idea. Give yourself an early Christmas present by seeking professional help and guidance from a divorce mediation coach on the pending financial and parenting questions, to help you and your family with a smooth transition through this difficult time.
For couples contemplating a separation, the holidays can be a very difficult time. ‘Faking it’ can be difficult, but if you’ve decided it’s best to wait, you can make it through. Knowing in your heart that you did your best for your children is a good spot to be in. And a great place to find peace and joy this season.