Holidays can be stressful for everybody.  They can be wonderful and joyous celebrations, but they can also involve lots of planning, preparation and possibly unrealistic expectations.  Add the process of divorce or the loss of a loved one into the mix and things can quickly go from stressful to completely unmanageable.

Over the years, I’ve observed lots of family changes during the holidays in my own family and in my clients’ families.  That leads me to a couple recommendations, or at least things to consider.

The first consideration is to recognize that things have changed.  Whether it’s the loss of a loved one due to death or the loss of a relationship through separation or divorce, things are not the same.  Acknowledging that change and the emotions that go along with it could be the first step to coping better with the stress of holidays.  Acting as if nothing has changed just creates the proverbial “elephant in the room” and probably makes the situation worse.  And recognize that things have changed not only for us as individuals, but for the family and friends with whom you are sharing the holidays.  This includes our children, even adult children, who are experiencing this change and taking many of their cues about how to handle it from us.

The second consideration is to temper our expectations.    If the situation has changed, it is probably unrealistic to expect that the holiday celebration will be the same as it has been in the past.  Setting unrealistic expectations as a goal is a sure-fire way to create feelings of disappointment and failure.  The holidays are probably not going to be the same and we will not know how that will play out until we experience it.  We create expectations for experiences all the time and those expectations are rarely met, but that does not make the experience a failure.  If we can acknowledge that our expectations are based on our imaginations and the reality may be different, we can enjoy both the expectations and the actual experience.

The third recommendation is to be patient and understanding with ourselves and with others.  The stress of the holidays can increase conflict and make us impatient. If we do our best to remember that holidays can be stressful for everybody involved, particularly when those holiday situations are complicated by the loss of a relationship or a loved one we may be able to make things just  little bit better for everybody.

Please be kind to yourself and others this holiday season.

If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Harrisburg, Hershey, Carlisle, Mechanicsburg and surrounding communities and would like to discuss handling holidays or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.