The festive allure of the Jewish High Holidays is just days away, Thanksgiving is imminent, and the countdown to Christmas is on. The holiday season can be a stress-filled time for separated or divorced parents, but it needn’t be this way.
The absence of children or extended family during these celebrations, particularly if you’ve traditionally spent time with them, can create a sense of loneliness. However, who dictates that these festivities need to adhere to old traditions or the same holidays you celebrated during your married life? As a divorced or separated parent, seize this opportunity to create new meanings for these celebrations, tailoring them to your comfort and enjoyment.
Here are a few tips to navigate this holiday period:
Having to navigate a holiday schedule when you’re newly divorced can be challenging. Celebrating special occasions and holidays such as Jewish High Holidays, Christmas and Thanksgiving often induces stress when you’re fresh from a divorce order— but it doesn’t need to be this way.
Experiencing your first set of holidays without your children or extended family, particularly if it’s a time when you customarily celebrated together, can stir feelings of sadness and loneliness. However, there’s no rule stating that you must commemorate these days following the traditional route or the way you did when you were married. If you find yourself on your own, seize the opportunity to instill new meanings into these celebrations and enjoy them on your own terms.
Here are some tips to help navigate through these holiday periods:
- Establish new family traditions. If the old traditions have become painful to follow, it might be time to let them go. Rather than attempting to recreate the past, focus on crafting a positive future. Host your own gathering and invite friends or family who, like you, might not have a place to go during the holiday period.
- Prioritize self-care. Make a concerted effort to attend to your physical and emotional health. Avoid attempting to numb your pain with alcohol or food. Indulging excessively when you’re feeling down is rarely a wise course of action.
- Be kind to yourself. Whether it’s treating yourself to a manicure or massage, downloading a fresh playlist, or reviving a favorite hobby, ensure you treat yourself with the same kindness and care you’d offer a good friend or family member.
- Reach out. If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable, speak with a trusted friend, therapist, or a member of your support group.
- Be proactive. If it seems like you’re likely to spend the holiday time on your own, consider engaging in an interesting activity or traveling to a location where you can be around other people.
- Surround yourself with community, whether it’s from your support network, family, church, or synagogue. You might even find a special support group hosting a holiday function.
- Visualize your post-divorce life. Contemplate how you’d like your life to look like post-divorce and jot down the steps you need to take to realize this vision. Start implementing one of those steps now.
- Maintain control through organization. Create lists of what you need to accomplish and check off each item as you complete it.
- Make use of solitude. Use any alone time to tackle tasks you’ve been delaying — catching up on paperwork or sleep, diving into a good book, or reestablishing contact with a friend you’ve been meaning to reconnect with.
- Consider outward-focused activities. If hosting a dinner or party at home feels uncomfortable, consider doing something altruistic elsewhere. For example, you could visit a retirement home and spend time reading to residents whose families can’t join them for the holidays.
- Keep the holidays enjoyable for your children. Involve them in the creation of new traditions and ask for their input on how they would like to celebrate.
- Plan your children’s holiday schedule ahead of time. By figuring out how your children are going to spend time with each parent during the holidays in advance, you can avoid last-minute stress. This forethought provides a sense of comfort, relief, and control.
- Show flexibility. If your children aren’t spending time with you on the exact holidays, consider creating another special day during the holiday break to celebrate together.
- Keep in touch. If your children are spending time with the other parent, give them a call to wish them a happy holiday. It’s important to let them know that you are thinking about them.
- Ensure your children’s peace of mind. It’s crucial to avoid making your children feel as if they need to take care of you during this special time. Communicate that holidays are a time for enjoyment, and you want them to have a great time.
- Recall positive memories. Spare the occasional good thought for your ex-spouse. Your marriage likely had some good moments. Remembering those times occasionally can help lift you out of your current resentment.
- Establish new family traditions. If adhering to old traditions causes pain, let them go. Instead of trying to replicate the past, create a future that resonates with positivity. Throw a party on your own terms and invite friends or family who might be alone during this period.
- Invest time in self-care, both physically and emotionally. Refrain from resorting to alcohol or food as an emotional crutch. Overindulging during times of worry or sadness is rarely a constructive strategy.
- Be kind to yourself. Book a manicure or a massage, indulge in a curated playlist, or invest time in a beloved hobby. Treat yourself as you would a dear friend or family member.
- If feelings of vulnerability or overwhelm creep in, confide in a trusted friend, therapist, or a member of your support group.
- Preemptively plan. If you foresee spending the holidays alone, find an intriguing activity or travel destination where you can spend quality time with others.
- Surround yourself with supportive individuals, be it your family, friends, religious group, or support network. You may find comfort in attending a special support group holiday function.
- Visualize your post-divorce life and jot down the steps needed to actualize this vision. Start tackling one of those steps immediately.
- Stay organized by making lists of tasks and enjoy the satisfaction of checking off each accomplished task.
- Use any alone time to catch up on tasks you’ve been postponing – be it paperwork, sleep, reading the untouched book on your shelf, or rekindling a friendship.
- If hosting a dinner or party at the family home feels uncomfortable, consider reaching out to others elsewhere. For instance, visit a retirement home and read to those whose families can’t be with them during the holidays.
- Ensure to make the holidays special for your children. Include them in developing new traditions. Ask them how they would like to celebrate.
- Strategically plan how your children will spend the holidays. Avoid the stress of last-minute decisions. This will lend a sense of comfort, relief, and control.
- Be creative and flexible. If your children are spending the holidays with the other parent, consider marking a different day during the holiday season as your special day together.
- When your children are with the other parent, give them a call to wish them a happy holiday. Reiterate that they are in your thoughts.
- Encourage your children to enjoy themselves during this special time. Assure them that they don’t need to worry about you during the holiday period.
- Consider sending a positive thought towards your ex-spouse. Recalling the good moments from your marriage can occasionally help lift you out of any bitterness about the current situation.
- Wishing everyone good health, happiness, prosperity, peace, and love.
- To all my followers and fans who celebrate, here’s to a happy, healthy, and sweet New Year. Shana Tova!
- I found some inspiring messages on Haaretz.com that I would like to share, which are valuable readings regardless of whether you celebrate the Jewish New Year.
Four Rabbis share lessons for the Jewish New Year:
Rabbi Stewart Weiss (Orthodox), the director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana, imparts the message – Listen to Each Other. He encourages us to work on our interpersonal relationships, particularly the art of listening. He points out the need to do twice as much listening, given that we have two ears and one mouth.
Rabbi Miri Gold (Reform), leads Kehilat Birkat Shalom in Kibbutz Gezer, affiliated with the Israeli Reform movement. Her message – Hope and Action. She emphasizes that Judaism is about doing, and we can realize our capacity to effect change during this holiday season.
Rabbi Jeff Cymet (Masorti) leads Kehila Chadasha, a new congregation in North Tel Aviv. As a practicing family lawyer ordained four years ago, his message is – Search for Meaning. He invites us to recommit, renew, and refresh our personal missions, acknowledging our mortality and striving to make our lives meaningful in this context.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (Orthodox) is the founding Chief Rabbi of Efrat and founder and dean of the Ohr Torah Stone Institutions, in the United States and Israel. His message is – Ask for Redemption. He encourages us to ask for things that truly matter and not let hardships rob us of our dreams and visions.
Holiday Parenting Schedules
Holiday parenting and crafting ‘holiday parenting schedules’ around significant festive periods can be stressful. However, this stress can be mitigated by the establishment of a clear ‘parenting schedule’ which sets out the family structure for you.
For many, Chanukah, also spelled Hannukah, embodies the essence of collaboration in holidays – a plethora of celebration options exist, none of them incorrect. As such, for couples navigating through a collaborative divorce, it presents a unique opportunity to devise a successful plan to celebrate Chanukah with their children after the separation.
There are a few key aspects to remember about Chanukah:
Chanukah is Considered a Minor Holiday
Remember that Chanukah does not hold the same weight as major holidays in Judaism, such as Rosh Hashanah or Passover. Therefore, ‘divorced or separated parents’ might consider it more important to have their children present for Rosh Hashanah dinner or High Holy Day services.
The timing of Chanukah depends on the Hebrew calendar, which is lunar-based, unlike the secular solar calendar. As such, it can fall on different dates each year on our secular calendar. Chanukah is celebrated every year, beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. It commemorates the liberation of Jerusalem and the miracle of the holy oil that lasted eight days in the Temple, which is why the holiday lasts for eight days and involves the lighting of the Menorah.
Days Aren’t Significant
Given that days begin at sundown in the lunar calendar, Chanukah is celebrated in the evening. However, during the day, it’s business as usual with everyone going to work or school.
You Have Eight Nights to Celebrate; None More Important Than the Other Chanukah is commemorated over eight nights. Each night, the family comes together to light the menorah, each time adding a candle. The religious aspect of the celebration is contained mostly within this candle lighting ritual and the blessings said at that time.
Additional traditions may vary depending on the individual circumstances of each family. It’s customary to eat fried foods like latkes or donuts to represent the oil that miraculously burned for eight days. Many families choose to have a larger celebratory dinner on one of the nights, with the other nights dedicated to lighting the candles.
The Matter of Presents
Presents aren’t traditional to Chanukah and are more of a response to Christmas. Every family has their unique approach to gift-giving during Chanukah – some give a present each night, others only on the first night, while others may not give presents at all. The nature of this tradition heavily depends on the family structure and traditions.
Interfaith Challenges: Christmas and Chanukah
Interfaith couples navigating a divorce may experience stress around the overlapping of Christmas and Chanukah. In such cases, it is my professional advice that Christmas can take precedence over a night of Chanukah, as there are six other nights of Chanukah, in addition to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, for the Jewish parent to celebrate with the kids.
Here are a few recommendations for professionals aiding parents in their negotiation around Chanukah parenting time:
Understand Family Traditions: Get insights on how the family has traditionally celebrated Chanukah. Ask questions about the family’s practices – whether they light candles every night for eight nights or just the first one, whether they give children a present each night, or if they have a family party with brisket, latkes, and play dreidel.
Post-divorce Celebration Plans: Especially important for interfaith couples. Post-divorce, households often become 100% Jewish or 100% non-Jewish. It’s crucial to explore these interests and understand how each parent would like to celebrate Chanukah post-separation.
Facilitate Plans that Support Each Parent’s Celebration Interests: There are many ways to get to a ‘stress-free’ holiday schedule that allows for the celebration of Chanukah. The goal is to provide both parents and the children the opportunity to celebrate Chanukah in their unique way. You’ve got eight nights, and not every night has to involve overnight possession. With an eight-night holiday, it is more than likely each Jewish parent will already have possession during Chanukah under the regular parenting schedule. A parent who needs more nights to celebrate Chanukah can have dinner possession without changing the overnight schedule.
Understanding how parents celebrate Chanukah with their kids can help them develop satisfying solutions.
As the holiday season approaches, the concerns of many divorced or separated parents tend to rise. However, remember that the primary consideration should always be the best interests of the children. It’s important to recognize that the existing holiday parenting schedule might no longer be suitable and adjustments might be needed.
The essence of a holiday break is to create cherished holiday memories with your children, whether it’s waking up early on Christmas morning, opening gifts on Christmas Day, or spending time together on Christmas Eve. This is where a flexible and adaptable parenting schedule comes in handy. Remember, every family’s circumstances are individual and unique, and this should be taken into account.
If you and the other parent used to celebrate Christmas as a family tradition, find ways to ensure the children still have the chance to celebrate Christmas with both parents. You might want to consider alternating schedules, where one parent gets to spend Christmas Eve and the other gets Christmas Day, for instance. This way, the child spends equal time with both parents during this special occasion.
In instances where parents live in different provinces or if a parent moves, a case conference with family lawyers might be needed to bring motions that ensure the holiday schedule adheres to the child’s best interests. Always be guided by family law and aim for a stress-free holiday season for the children. It might seem complex to navigate these issues, especially with different holidays like Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and statutory holidays also in the mix, but a good starting point is always to focus on the interests of the child.
Aim for a holiday parenting time that is shared equally. The holiday schedule should not disrupt the regular parenting schedules significantly and should consider the time spent with each parent. As co-parents, it’s essential to maintain a spirit of cooperation. Remember, creating a separation agreement or modifying an existing one is not the only option. Sometimes, informal agreements can work as well, provided they are centered around the children’s needs.
If disputes arise, a family court can help assign fixed holidays, or decide who gets time with the child on specific holidays based on the child’s best interest. Bear in mind, the goal isn’t to win the most time but to ensure your child has a fulfilling and joyful holiday time.
Navigating holiday schedules as divorced or separated parents can seem daunting, but it’s not impossible. Always prioritize your children’s happiness and wellbeing, and remember that with empathy, understanding, and cooperation, a peaceful and enjoyable holiday season can be achieved for everyone involved.
The holiday season, while potentially stressful for divorced parents, can also be a time of renewal and the creation of new, joyful traditions. Remember, the focus should always be on the happiness and well-being of your children.
Navigating this period may seem daunting, but with empathy, understanding, and cooperation, a peaceful and enjoyable holiday season can be achieved for everyone involved. You don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to professionals who can provide guidance and support during this time.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider speaking with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or a lawyer who specializes in family law. They can provide you with the necessary tools and advice to navigate this challenging period.
Finally, remember that you’re not alone in this journey. There are resources available to help you navigate this new chapter of your life. If you need support or guidance, don’t hesitate to schedule a Get Acquainted Call. This could be the first step towards a smarter, less stressful divorce experience.
Remember, it’s not just about surviving the holidays—it’s about thriving during them and beyond.
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