So much of life is about transitions.
Really, most of life can be described as a transition. How about when someone asks “How are you?” and you reply “Good! Well, I’m incredibly busy.” Think of the transitions and change you might have had in the week before you were asked that question. Transitions and change come in so many forms: new relationships; in nature, aging, gaining a new skill, losing a needed one, and in perceptions about ourselves and how our needs are being met. At their best, transitions bring in freshness and hope. But without careful consideration for how teens are handling new family expectations around the holidays, natural excitement about being together and enjoying the closeness of loved ones can take a back seat to stress and anxiety.
I don’t have to tell you how this time time of year brings this into sharp focus.
When families transition from one version to another, depending on who you ask in the family, there can be a lot of reasons to celebrate. Kids may express relief that they aren’t hearing loud arguments or insults, or worse. Parents may get some alone time when the kids are with their coparent, and also get the chance to miss their kids, which can kick-start positive and loving emotions towards them.
Divorce or separation has best intentions- to re-create happiness, to acknowledge change, and to experience hope and renewed love.
But children and teens have the least access, and the most obstacles, to experiencing the best intentions of the change divorce and separation bring to families. And, as with any transition, there can be confusion, uncertainty, heightened emotions, and lots and lots of misunderstanding. Teens are already under major construction when it comes to change; when parents change, even though a teen may look like they need parents less, in reality all that change means loss. The loss of carefree after school afternoons with little or no homework, loss of hours spent absorbed in their imaginative play, or the loss of un-self consciousness with others.
When a teen loses the firm and predictable container of holiday traditions, on the outside they may act indifferent or rude.
It’s possible though that the inner translation of this is anxiety, sadness, disappointment, or fear. Transition ultimately means letting go. Parenting letting go over the holidays can be supported like this:
- Using mutual respect and taking more direction from your teen about their needs over the holidays.
- Keep the one or two most important traditions sacred and untouched.
- Protect some down time for decompressing instead of following the well-meaning but crazy making intention of getting together with as many people as possible.
- Be creative about custodial arrangements if it will benefit your teenager. This doesn’t mean ignoring court orders, and if you don’t have working communication with your coparent then this won’t work. But, although it feels counterintuitive, giving in to a coparent’s special request at this time of year could reduce stress, especially if your teen is anxious about your coparent’s lack of company, gifts, or traditions. Or, if you are that parent:
- If your kids are busy and you might be vulnerable to resenting this, make plans and reassure them you have taken care of yourself. Teens are naturally loving and fun, and might feel guilty if they think you will be sad or lonely during a major holiday. Figure out how to release them from those negative thoughts.
How do you navigate your blended family over the holidays?
Please share in the comments below! And remember, I’m parenting right alongside you.
Restoring Relationships is here for you if you are looking for support and encouragement for parenting the holidays. Click on the link to schedule a free 20 minute consultation.