Holidays for the Children of Divorce: Compromise or New Traditions?

It’s nearly the holidays and many divorcing and separating parents are still in conflict about how to share the holidays with their children.  Holidays are supposed to be joyous, but no matter what, the children will feel some sense of sadness from not having their parents together as a family at the Thanksgiving table, playing Dreidel or sitting around the Christmas tree.

Due to this unavoidable sadness children often experience, it is incumbent upon the parents to minimize any conflict and let the children know the holiday plans as soon as possible. This helps keep children from being worried about where they will be and instead enables them to focus on the excitement of the season.  Here are three strategies for doing this by proactively by addressing situations that could cause problems or conflict:

  1. Talk with the Child’s Therapist. Many children of divorce have the benefit of a therapist whom they trust and who is not part of the divorce proceeding.  The therapist may be well positioned to discuss the holidays with the parents and suggest a schedule which will minimize the stress for the child.
  2. Mediation. The court mediators are very busy this time of year.  It may be possible to obtain an appointment to set a holiday schedule.  If this is not possible, working with a lawyer or co-parenting therapist can aid in reaching agreements.  The most critical agreement to be reached concerns the upcoming holidays.  There is no need to focus on future holidays if that is going to cause an impasse for this year.  If only this year can be resolved, consider negotiating a more comprehensive holiday and vacation schedule after the first of the year while everyone concerned is not under the pressure of the looming holidays.
  3. Make New Traditions. Many families were accustomed to traveling to extended family gatherings during the holidays.  This worked when the immediate family was intact and spent the holidays together.  After divorce or separation, it is not possible for those same travel plans to occur each year because the parent who is no longer part of the other’s extended family may not be welcome or want to participate in the extended family gathering. This may reduce family conflicts, but it also keeps the children from being with that other parent during the holidays.  So, new traditions are required.  Maybe the children will travel in alternating years to the extended family; maybe key members of the extended family will travel to the children’s home so both parents have time with the children during the holidays; or maybe extended family members will create a new tradition of celebrating “Christmas in June” with the children at a time when holiday scheduling conflicts are not present.

There is no winner or loser in compromise and/or in creating fun new traditions.  When working through this process, think about the children first; then think “outside the box” to arrive at a holiday plan.  This plan might look different than in the past, but there is no reason why this change cannot provide a fun, exciting and less stressful time for the children.