Contributor: Erin Dazey
For children, the holidays are filled with wonder and joy. If you look back on your own childhood, many of your favorite holiday memories are centered around family traditions: playing football with your cousins on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house, Aunt Daisy’s lemon meringue pie or Uncle Joe’s carrot cake that appeared on the family holiday table year after year. For families during and after a divorce, holiday traditions can get complicated. For one thing, both Mom and Dad aren’t there with the kids for every celebration. For another, children may have to miss a traditional holiday event on one side of the family because it takes place during their time with their other parent. These changes are hard for everyone, but especially for children. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make everything the same as it was, but you can make the holidays easier on yourself and your children with these holiday tips for divorced parents.
Plan for Success
Kids thrive on routine and predictability. While it’s always good to be flexible, the holidays are not the time to leave things to chance or to see what you feel like doing when the time comes. Planning ahead will give you answers when the kids ask (and they will!) about what is going to happen during the holidays. If there are certain events that they have looked forward to year after year, try to make it possible for your kids to participate if at all possible.
Scheduling can get complicated on an average day; the logistics of who goes where and when during the holidays is even more complex. Planning months ahead may seem like overkill, but you’ll be glad you did so when the holidays get closer and things get hectic. Knowing when your child will be with each parent and having important events already on the calendar will make it easier to deal with scheduling.
Be Specific About Plans
Kids like knowing what to expect, and you will like being able to tell them definitively that yes, they will be able to attend the family holiday party or festival that has become tradition in your family. Having specific plans is like a security blanket for kids, something they can rely on and look forward to, especially when so many other things in their lives are changing.
Get the Kids’ Input
Depending on how old your children are, it can be helpful to include them when talking about how the holidays will look and be scheduled. New traditions will be more meaningful to your kids if they are involved in the decisions. That said, getting kids’ input isn’t the same as letting them be in control. Make it clear that you value their thoughts, but that mom or dad will have the final say.
Make Room for Flexibility
As important as it is to have plans and predictability, having events too tightly or rigidly scheduled can be stressful for everyone. Build in some space for downtime with hot cocoa and movies on the couch or a last-minute invitation to a play date at a friend’s house. Prioritize your kids’ needs in the moment over your own desire to keep a schedule.
Develop New Traditions
Almost invariably, some traditions fall by the wayside when parents separate or divorce, and that can be sad. The good news is that you have the opportunity to create new traditions. Maybe you never went sledding at the big hill in town because your spouse hated it. This could be your chance to create a new tradition of sledding, followed by a pancake dinner with hot cocoa. Again, finding out what the kids want will help your new tradition stick.
Let Your Kids Share
Your ex will probably be creating new traditions with your kids, too. If the kids are excited to share what they did while you were apart, encourage that! It may hurt a little to hear of your kids and ex having a great time without you, but the fact that your kids are excited to tell you what they’ve been up to is a positive. Shutting them down will not only hurt their feelings, it will mean they’re less likely to open up to you when you want them to.
Don’t Spring News
You may have more time than usual with your kids over the holidays, so it might seem like a good time to share big developments in your life, such as a new partner or plans to move. Resist the urge. It may seem like good news to you, but the prospect of change may be very upsetting to your kids. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t spring big news on your kids during the holidays; wait until a quieter moment when they have time to process and ask questions.
Let Things Go
The holidays, ideally, are supposed to be about “peace on earth.” Make that true in your little corner of the world as well. It’s tempting to get irritable and let loose when your ex is late picking up or dropping off the kids, and that irritation may make you want to bring up past grievances as well. Again, resist this temptation. Your kids will pick up on the tension. Remember that you want their holiday memories to be of the good times. Make note of your grievances; if they’re serious, review them after the holiday with your attorney.
Be Kind to Yourself
The holidays are also supposed to be about goodwill; don’t forget to extend that to yourself. If your holiday doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell illustration or Hallmark card, that’s okay. If you’re honest with yourself, holidays probably didn’t look that way before your divorce, either. Challenging emotions and difficult behaviors may arise in your kids. Invite them to share your calm rather than allowing yourself to join in their chaos. The holiday may not look “perfect,” but if you do your best to put your kids’ needs first, it will be just fine.
If you have questions about how to manage the upcoming holidays as a newly separated or divorced parent, we can help. Please contact our law office to schedule a consultation.
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