As human beings, we tend to find comfort in traditions and repetition, for they represent familiarity and safety.
When divorce happens, those feelings of safety and comfort are threatened for all involved. Our natural tendency is to cling to what has always been done in the past, in an effort to maintain some sense of normalcy and familiarity. We want to do the same things in the same places with the same people.
Unfortunately, the hard reality is that this is not always doable in divorce situations. This is not to say that a divorcing couple cannot try to get along in order to be able to continue some traditions – but not everyone can make it work.
Anticipating New Beginnings
It can be helpful to remember that all family traditions were new at some point. Instead of saying, “On Christmas we always do this. I can’t imagine not doing it”, try looking at upcoming holidays as an opportunity to form new memories and create new traditions.
I have never seen children refuse a gift that was given to them on a day other than their birthday or December 25. If one parent needs to celebrate a special occasion on a different date, s/he can still make it special for a child. In fact, kids will get excited about almost anything if it is presented to them properly.
Maybe you will no longer all be able to go to the same church for Midnight Mass – but you can find a new church, perhaps where the kids have friends. Instead of children getting served breakfast in bed on their birthday, your new tradition could be going out to the restaurant of their choice for dinner. What new customs would you like to start?
Helping the Kids to Embrace Change
It is almost always in the best interest of the children if the extended family can respect the former in-law, and if former spouses can remain civil to each other. They do not have to remain best friends, but should at least strive to be friendly.
Some parents try to continue family outings together as much as possible to ease their children into the new situation, but be sure this approach does not backfire. Kids can easily get confused by mixed signals and instead of starting to adjust mentally and emotionally, may instead become hopeful that the divorce will not really go through after all. When the divorce does get finalized or one parent starts dating again, the children will be devastated all over again.
A healthier approach may be for both parents to go to sports games or concerts and perhaps all go out together after the event, but not to make “family outings” a regular habit.
Focusing on the Positive
Divorce is a sad event. There is no doubt that a significant feeling of loss will be experienced. It becomes even more complicated when new “significant others” are introduced. But it can be helpful and freeing if you try to put your best foot forward and look for positive ways to ease into the “new normal” as you move on.
Instead of forcing family and friends to take sides and losing relationships with some of them as a result, see if there is a way you can make it easier for them to remain neutral, or at least to stay friendly with both spouses.
Instead of thinking about all you’ll be missing out on now, try something you were not able to do within the marriage. Maybe you always wanted to travel, but your spouse was a homebody. Plan a trip and have an adventure! Perhaps you were never able to decorate your home the way you wanted to because your spouse had different tastes. Enjoy the opportunity to now explore your own stylistic preferences!
Divorce is one of the most personal and vulnerable experiences an individual can go through. It is, after all, the end of a relationship with the person who has shared the most intimacy with you, and with whom you had planned to spend the rest of your life. It can be natural for a defense mechanism to kick to avoid additional hurt. How one reacts to the opportunity to make the best of a difficult situation, however, can make a huge difference in the outcome.