Holidays, Your Divorce, and Your Children: Making It Work
The holidays conjure up all sorts of images and expectations. Movies, television, advertisements, and Hallmark cards promote harmony and kindness. Then there are family traditions and childhood memories that surround Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Years, and other year-end celebrations.
To say that adults are distracted during the holiday season is an understatement, and kids often get lost in the shuffle. For children who are coping with divorce and living in two homes, stress may reach an all-time high during the holiday season. New traditions are getting started, and their parents are beginning to learn how to co-parent.
Five Tips for Helping Your Children Cope With and Even Enjoy the Holidays
1. Prepare your children for the logistics of the holiday.
- Talk with your children about how the holiday season will be handled.
Kids depend upon routines. It’s important for the children to have a road map about how the holidays will flow.
- Avoid asking the children what their preferences are. This may seem counter-intuitive, but they do not want to be asked to choose between parents.
- Work out in advance whether they will share time with each parent or only one parent on each holiday.
- Lay out the plan for the holiday and describe who will be there so there are no surprises.
- Determine in advance how the children will transition between homes. This includes who is picking up and dropping off. Also answer the question of whether the dropping-off parent will be welcome to come in and offer holiday greetings (hopefully, yes) to the other family.
2. Reassure the children about your plans when you are not with the children.
- Make sure your children know they have your permission to have fun and enjoy their time with the other parent and family.
- Let them know that, when you are not with them, you will be fine. Describe your holiday plans.
- Create time for your children to speak with the parent not present in a quality way. Technology can help with Skype, Apple’s FaceTime, and texts and emails with photos.
3. Create calm and not chaos.
- Most people hope to create calm, not chaos, during the holidays. It’s especially important for children to have calm when they are dealing with the loss of the nuclear family.
- Keep transitions and running from place to place at a minimum. This may not be the year to visit every relative.
- Talk with your children about what is important about the holiday and what might be hard for them.
- Create new traditions with your children that are quieter and more meaningful, such as serving in a soup kitchen or donating gifts as a family.
- Emphasize that things may be different, but that does not mean they are bad.
4. Gift-giving teaches children to nurture.
- Holidays provide a learning opportunity for the joy of giving and nurturing.
- In a positive and supportive manner, help your children select gifts or make gifts for the other parent. This gives children a sense of security and reduces stress.
- Coordinate with the other parent about shared gifts for the children and what you may have in mind about giving them yourself. Do not try to “out-Santa” each other.
- Let your children decide where to play with their gifts and whether they want to take the gift to both households.
5. Share information and events.
- Communicate with the other parent about recitals, holiday events, and religious activities. These are important to your children, and they want both parents to participate.
- Find a way to be together as Mom and Dad at these events, even sit together, if that is possible. That is the best gift of all, if you both can do it with no tension between you.
- Set the tone for family gatherings and be sure that your relatives only say kind and generous things about the other parent. Give your children the gift of love and harmony. The walls really do have ears.
For More Help About Holidays with Children and Divorce
- “Children of Divorce List Their Holiday Do’s and Don’ts“
- “How Can I Help My Children Get Over Their Holiday Blues?“
- The Book of New Family Traditions (Revised and Updated): How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day
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