If you’re going through separation or divorce, special occasions and significant family milestones can add extra stress and tension to an already difficult time in your life. If youre coparenting children or negotiating your settlement, these events can be even more emotionally charged. Now, and for years to come, there will be birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, communions, bat and bar mitzvahs and funerals to attend where you and your former partner may very well have to be in the same room together for hours. How can you ensure things go as good as can be expected? Here are 5 tips.
1. Develop a plan
The single most important factor in determining how well the event will go for you is to be proactive. Think about your expectations. Make a plan. Communicate those expectations with others – maybe even your former partner. Can you talk with your ex about your expectations? For example, can you find out how the children will get to and from the event? Are there cards or gifts? Whos buying? Who will be present from each one of your families? Think about how youd like to engage with all those individuals in a positive way. Give particular attention to those who you think may say or do something at the special event that could trigger a reaction in you.
In separation and divorce situations, there are often extended family members, who arent at the same stage of processing the end of your relationship. They may be angry and grieving themselves, and could possibly direct their emotions towards you. Be sure to think about how you can prepare yourself for all scenarios. Remember you can only control your reactions – you cannot control other people’s behaviours towards you. Expect you could potentially be on the receiving end of hurtful words or the cold shoulder. Be prepared for as many scenarios as possible, and communicate to your former partner about a plan that ensures the most positive, successful event for both of you and your family members.
2. It’s not about you
Remember the occasion is for the special person being celebrated or remembered. It’s about the birthday girl or a boy. It’s about the couple marrying or celebrating their anniversary. Its about the loved one lost. This may sound a harsh, but its not your time to take the spotlight away from the guest of honour because you are feeling pain. This isnt to say your feelings dont matter. The pain, anger and loss you feel are real, however, try to park your feelings for a few hours, and do your best to be positive for the sake of others.
3. Self-care before special occasions
Leading up to the event, ask yourself what you might need to feel your best? Do you need a friend to talk to? Do you need some quiet time for yourself to contemplate the event? Perhaps you need to blow off some steam at the gym before the event? Can you bring another family member with you to support you? Maybe it’s a pep talk from someone who has been through a divorce and is successfully on the other side. Think about what could help you be the strongest at the event, so you don’t say or do something you regret.
4. Find the support that fits you
Do you have a counsellor or very good friend who can help you talk about the event before and after? Not everybody likes psychologist or family counsellors, but do you have an objective individual in your life who will challenge your perceptions and thoughts while being supportive? Our friends and family are good resources for us, but sometimes they don’t say the hard stuff. They don’t challenge our viewpoints like a professional would. Be sure youre open to hearing all points of view, and invite that kind of feedback leading up to special occasion.
Family occasions are typically stressful (on some level) for most people. This is true even in families where parents are still together. It’s easy to lose perspective when youre experiencing the grief, sadness and anger that often comes with separation and divorce. Try not to pile on negative feelings. Try to think of the event as an independent occasion. Also, the event will only last a few hours. That situation doesnt need to represent all of your pain.
6. Be kind to yourself during separation and divorce
Getting separated and divorced are two of lifes most stressful events. If you dont get it entirely right during the special occasion youre attending, theres no need to beat yourself up. Theres always a next time to do better. For additional tips, check out the key parenting considerations for those going through separation and divorce.
Christine Gillies is a Calgary-based marketing executive and mom of two. She successfully co-parents her kids with their father, who lives four blocks away.