There is no such thing as "one size fits all" when it comes to the best way to celebrate the holidays in the midst of a separation or divorce. I get it, you feel like your hopes, dreams, and traditions have all gone up in smoke. You are a parent, but you are still a person who is likely to be going through their own grieving process. It is critical that you take care of yourself so that you can be emotionally available to your children. Many divorcing parents find comfort in a support group, therapy, or through journaling or yoga. Managing your own expectations is also critical in order to set a good role model for your children. So when it comes to making the decision as to when it is best to separate, before the holidays or after, what are you supposed to do?
Many couples consult my services each year around October in search of the answer to this question. These are the conscientious parents that want to seek professional advice prior to talking with their children about their upcoming separation. Frequently, one of the spouses has decided that they want to move on. The other spouse might agree upon the divorce but, they are openly or privately hoping that something will shift and a reconciliation will occur.
The couples most often ask me if they should stay together "for the sake of the children" through the holidays and wait to file for divorce in January. They often ask, "Is this a good idea?" My answer is usually, "That depends." Conflict is what causes problems for children, not divorce. If you and your spouse are capable of treating one another respectfully, not engaging in a cold war, and are emotionally capable of conducting business as usual, it may indeed be a nice idea to stay together until after the holidays. The problem that often arises is that the intentions of each parent are to conduct themselves with dignity, however, once the stress of the living situation, compounded by the stress of holidays is mixed with a little alcohol we create a recipe for conflict. The conflict is what then causes disruption for the children.
Another problem I usually address directly is that when couples stay together for the holidays it is usually the case that one spouse is ready to move things along and is further along in the process while the other is hoping for reconciliation. The spouse who is not as eager to separate is hoping that the nostalgia of the season, family holiday pictures and extended family gatherings will somehow persuade the leaving spouse to reconsider. Even if something like this occurs it is unlikely to be sustained. The spouse who feels left behind then has to go through the grieving process all over again when they find out that the leaving spouse truly was only present "for the sake of the children." I often see this causes greater pain and more resentment than before.
My answer is that staying together "for the sake of the children" is a lofty yet worthwhile goal that is certainly worth considering. I remind clients to consider that it requires both parents to love their children more than they hate one another.
CA LICENSE NO: PSY 15664 / HI LICENSE NO: PSY 1511
Psychological services are offered through Love & Alvarez Psychology. Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and are not intended as legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Intended for educational purposes only and not intended as individualized advice or a guarantee that you will achieve a desired result.