We all know that kids thrive on structure and knowing what to expect, and that includes the holidays. Kids love doing the same things year after year—going to buy the Christmas tree, baking holiday cookies, decorating the home and other family holiday traditions.
But what happens when parents get divorced and those family holiday traditions are no longer possible? Maybe you sold the family home, and now kids are spending half the holiday with Mom and half with Dad. These changes can be tough for both parents and children, as it’s hard to accept family holiday traditions that may have once brought so much joy are now changing.
The good news is, despite the changes, co-parents can create new traditions that will hopefully become sources of joy, connection, and family bonding. Children will be better able to enjoy the holidays if parents remain positive about their celebrations and maintain stability throughout the festive months.
Here are some tips that may help your family get through the holidays without conflict, and build lasting family holiday traditions your children can look forward to and depend on.
1. Make your plans early.
Everyone should have clear expectations as to how the holidays will be spent each year. That means making plans and deciding on your holiday parenting time well in advance. Be sure to consult your parenting agreement while making arrangements as well.
Keep your children informed of the plan and be sure to tell them as soon as possible if plans have to change. Making plans early also requires some flexibility, as unforeseen circumstances can still arise, no matter how meticulously everything was scheduled.
2. Rotate holidays or celebrate on alternate dates.
When co-parents determine their holiday parenting time, it’s common that rotating holidays is part of the bargain. One year you may have Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, while the next year you may have Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Work with your co-parent to share holidays in a way that allows both of you to have time with your children on special occasions.
Even when it isn’t your “on” year for a certain holiday, you can still have family holiday traditions with your children. Consider celebrating on alternate dates in those instances. Not only does this ensure you’re always getting some one-on-one time with your kids for special occasions, but it may also make it easier to involve extended family as well.
3. Don’t try to recreate holidays exactly as they were.
Life changes after a divorce, and the holidays can go a lot more smoothly if you do not put pressure on yourself to make them look exactly like they did in the past.Don’t try to recreate the holidays as they were before you and your co-parent split. That doesn’t mean you have to abandon your favorite holiday activities, you may just have to fit them into your life in new and different ways.
It can also help to involve your kids in the holiday planning and in new family holiday traditions. For example, if you have the kids on Christmas day, ask them what they’d like the day to look like. Maybe a special breakfast? Possibly a hike before opening gifts? Ask them when and how they’d like to open gifts.
Maybe they want to invite friends over your house? Would they like to cook a nice dinner with you? How much time do they want to spend with Grandma and Grandpa or other relatives? Let the kids feel like they are part of the decision, but make lots of suggestions for new family holiday traditions.
On family holiday traditions after divorce…
After a divorce or separation, it can be hard to imagine what your holiday season will look like with your new family structure. While it may be painful to contemplate, do not procrastinate on planning this year’s festivities. Last-minute conversations with your co-parent about the holidays should be avoided, as emotions will already be running high.
But at the end of the day, be sure to remember that there will always be a learning curve when it comes to adapting to new situations, so do not be too harsh with yourself if you struggle with the holidays this year. The best news is, when you start making new family holiday traditions, every holiday season gets better and better!
Rebecca Perra is a family law attorney as well as a family law and dependency mediator. She also serves as the Judicial Education Coordinator for OurFamilyWizard. In this role, she educates judges, lawyers, and other family law professionals on the online tools that are used to reduce conflict and increase accountability in high-conflict co-parenting situations.