Custody, the holidays, and good mental health

Posted on Nov 30, 2020 by Katie Carter

There’s never a good time to go through a divorce or custody case, but probably one of the most difficult times to do so is during the holiday season. Though I think it’s true that most families fall into a rhythm over time with their parenting plans, there’s also a season of life where it’s new, uncomfortable, difficult, and emotional.

If you’ve never had to share the children, or deal with the emotional side of a divorce or custody case, combined with the difficulties of the holiday season, the first year is often a challenge. You have to begin to work through a new normal, which may – and, in fact, probably will – involve you not seeing the children for some portion of the holidays.

Probably this will be a new experience. Most families spend time on the holidays together, potentially even traveling to see extended family members, or hosting traveling family members. Time away from your children probably sounds difficult, or even a little bit unfathomable. But be kind to yourself, make a plan for how to celebrate with the time that you have available to you, and take steps to preserve the coparenting relationship with your child’s father so that, this year and in future years, you’ll be able to come up with a flexible or otherwise appropriate arrangement.

Good mental health is hard for many people during the holiday season, and our clients often tell us that it’s a particularly difficult struggle for them, too. When you combine the holiday blues, the stress of a divorce or custody case, and a global pandemic, well, let’s just say that you’re not superhuman! If you’re feeling the effects, you’re just one of literally millions (maybe even billions) who are feeling similarly.

You can’t control how you feel, but you can control what you do about it. Taking steps – active, specific, calculated steps – to ensure that you have strong mental health will serve you will, in the pandemic, in your family law case, and beyond.

So, what should you do? How can you prepare yourself for your family law case, for the uncomfortable inevitabilities of coparenting, and the upcoming holiday season? A couple tips:

1. Don’t be afraid to enlist the support of a therapist or other mental health professional.

We hear all the time that women are scared to see therapists. They’re worried that a diagnosis, or treatment, or just the simple fact of being in therapy, will show weakness. Weakness that could then potentially be used against them in their custody cases.

After all, wouldn’t a court hesitate to give more parenting time to a parent who is struggling with anxiety or depression or something? What about something “worse” – bipolar, multiple personalities, whatever? Yikes, doesn’t it HURT a custody case??

Well, usually, no. As long as you’re pursuing treatment, there’s no reason that a diagnosis – even a “bad” diagnosis – should be a problem. When you’re under control, when you’re seeking treatment, when you’re able to be your own best self, that shouldn’t keep you from parenting your own children.

When you’re NOT seeking treatment, when you don’t listen to a doctor, when your issues aren’t well maintained – well, that’s a different story.

There’s no shame in getting help. Especially if it makes you a better parent. And if you’re a happier, more balanced mom, you’ll have happier children.

2. Get the information you need.

There’s some happiness, or at least some empowerment, that comes from taking action. You don’t have to know all the answers to start gathering information, asking questions, and beginning to strategize.

We have a lot of resources that can help you – but, specifically, our free books and reports are a great place to start. Our books provide good general overview on important topics, and our free reports provide some insight into more specific issues that you might face.
I’m not saying the way forward will immediately become perfectly clear. Divorce and custody cases aren’t like that. But what I can tell you is that knowing the information will help you make informed choices that keep your most important concerns at the forefront.
3. Find some realistic workarounds to the holiday problems you’re facing.

Most people celebrate Christmas on December 25th. But a holiday is more than just a day on a calendar, don’t you think? As someone who has family traveling much of the year, I can tell you that we’ve really just adapted to celebrating when we can – not when we’re supposed to. That may mean writing letters to Santa to ask for an alternate delivery date, or celebrating Thanksgiving a day or two late. It may mean making entirely new traditions – or making traditions of your own, like celebrating a Friendsgiving on Thanksgiving with your friends who don’t have their children on the holiday, either.

Take care of yourself, too, and create traditions that allow you to find peace in your new normal.

Look, it’s not easy. It’s not easy for anyone. It was never easy. And now we have the added complication of the pandemic, and the fallout of the recent election, and all of this on top of a custody and visitation case. And the holidays!

It’s a lot. But you can figure it out. Carefully. Strategically.

For more information, request a free book or schedule a consultation. Give our office a call at 757-425-5200.