Family, food, friends, gifts, time off….what could be better? It really does sound like a recipe for a good time however many families find this time of the year to be very stressful as well. Many divorces are contemplated around the holidays.

Sometimes families and holidays come with conflict. Extended families that don’t get along, cooking, running around, spending money you don’t have on presents can be difficult even during the best of times. If it isn’t the best of times and you are in one of the situations below it may help to know that you aren’t alone.

  • You are once again fighting with your ex about where your children will spend the holidays
  • You and your partner have decided to separate but you are waiting until after the holidays to tell the children.
  • You have decided that you want a separation but don’t want to tell your soon to be ex-partner until after the holidays.

These are very common holiday stressors that add a great deal of conflict to an already hectic time of year.

There really is no good time for conflict, let’s agree on that. There are however worse times for it. Managing the expectations of others and trying to keep everyone happy while trying to keep the peace is challenging. Trust me, I know.

With the best of intentions to wait until after the holiday season to tell my now ex-husband that I thought we should separate – I blurted it out and bulldozed through the conversation the first week of December. I then expected him to play along like nothing was wrong for our children’s sake until January. I was actually hoping that our whole extended family would follow along as well. Yes, you can well imagine the frustration and disappointment I felt when that didn’t happen.

We all like to believe that we are very skilled actors and can deal with the emotional stress without the children knowing. Children are incredibly aware of their environment; if there is conflict in the home they will know it! Perhaps you have now stopped fighting in front of the kids, maybe you’ve stopped talking all together, maybe you think that the kids can’t feel the tension in the house…I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there is a really good chance that you are not sheltering them as well as you think you are. I’m not saying this to criticize, just as a reality check. I see it all of the time.

I watch clients, friends and family struggle with the issues above. Do you get it on the table now? Do you wait until after the holidays? How do you make sure the kids are happy and not impacted negatively? There are no easy answers, every situation and every family is unique.

So what can you learn from my mistake and many others like me?

Plan, plan and plan. Plan how to approach the topic of changing the holiday schedule with your ex, plan how and when to tell your partner you want a separation, plan how the 2 of you are going to get through the holidays together without letting the kids know. Even if things don’t go according to plan; which they often don’t, you have put some thought into it. You will be prepared for a discussion, you should be prepared to answer questions and you need to be prepared to modify your expectations of others. You don’t need to plan until the point that you are afraid to take action or your planning is delaying your ability to act. Just plan until you have a comfort level about the issue, how you really feel about it, what’s practical and how the other person may react. It’s always good to be prepared…do I sound like a boy scout?

The reality is that family conflict is at its highest December through March. How successful you and your children get through this period of time depends a great deal on how you manage the conflict.

You are not alone and you don’t need to face this by yourself. There are local counselors and mediators that can help you get through this on your terms. We’re just a phone call away.