Family Events in Separating and Divorcing Families- Possible islands of connection orpainful quicksand
As spring arrives you will be thinking about the many family occasions, holidays and events that need to be planned. Graduations, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, birthdays sprinkle your calendar. However this year is not like other years. Notice how you are feeling reading this – a pit in your stomach, ache in your heart, clenched jaw in reaction to your feelings about the changes in your family. Who comes to mind, your children’s faces, the past events that were fun and easy, the picture you have had in your mind about how you thought this would be like?
Many other families have lived through these difficult moments. We have learned from the many families before you who have approached these changes and report on how they turned out. The goodnews is that with careful planning parents can craft these events so that they can be at least ‘doable’ for your children and yourselves or even better.
Take a specific event coming up, for example a high school graduation of one of your children. There may have been older siblings who have graduated and the whole family has a memory of the events and how the family celebrated this important moment is the graduate’s life. It is very important now to imagine how you want this experience to be like for your son or daughter. Do you imagine it being warm, easy and where the focus is on their life accomplishment? Memories of shared meals, pictures of cap and gown clad kids with their siblings and family around?
It is possible to keep your intention be your guide in planning this day(s) and event(s) even though it is different than ‘last time’ or what you had imagined. This may make you sad or angry or disappointed even reading this. Of course. These important moments in a family’s life are powerful. Separations and divorces create feelings of grief of what has been lost or changed. Of course.
You and you spouse can work together with your coach to start now to plan these events so they are as positive as possible. It may take some work to sort through which traditions in the case of holidays and birthdays can be kept and which ones need to be changed. Do your best to be both flexible and realistic about what you can tolerate emotionally. For example one caring parent realized that sharing 8 hours together at Christmas was too long to be cordial with her separated spouse, but 2 hours of opening presents and sharing the traditional breakfast would have been possible .
Your children, as you know will have their own feelings and wishes. They may say or act as if ‘things are the same’ expecting hugs and kisses between you and lots of pictures together to give them the feeling that it is the ‘old days’. Ask your kids which parts of the holiday/family traditions are most important. Let them know compassionately that you know things are different this year. Let let know what is the same and what will be different.
If this is the first year after a separation why don’t you think about it as, “this year let’s try….. to make it easier.” This takes the pressure off the parents andchildren to ‘know’ how things will be next year. Let your kids know you’ll be planning with the other parent and get back to them with some plans. Most children I have talked to mostly want their parents not to fight and have the divorce dominate the event.
After checking in the with kids, let them know what the two of you propose emphasizing that you both want them to have this go well. If it is one child’s event i.e. a performance, graduation , bar/bat mitzvah you want to let them know this is their day and want this to be the most important thing. You want them to not be stressed by their worries about their parents.
Working together on this current family issue can help stabilize things for your children and built trust between you for the many post-divorce family events ahead of you.