Divorce and the Holiday Season

Q. “The holiday season is coming up and I’m recently separated. I have two school-age boys. My stomach feels like a knot thinking how different the holidays are going to be now for them. Is there some way to make it easier?”

A. Family holidays are supposed to be relaxing and stress-free, but often they aren’t. Planning family holidays is a particular challenge for the millions of divorced families out there. In fact, one out of three Americans is part of a blended family (and I suspect the statistics are similar for Canadians).

Divorced families face an even bigger challenge with holiday planning with children shuttling back and forth between mom’s house and dad’s house. There are all those logistical questions. Whose turn is it to have the children for Christmas morning? What if both parents are having a turkey dinner on the same day? How do you handle summer break? What do you do if you end up solo on a major family celebration day?

The key for separated families, like yours, is to doing some advance planning and preparation. Without that, holidays can end up being a time for stress and re-opening of old wounds instead of a time to relax and unwind, both for divorced parents and their children. There are some tips I can offer to make it a bit easier. First of all, instead of planning your holidays one at a time, …take a look at the overall picture of the different holidays e.g. summer vacations, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. Plan and negotiate a few holidays ahead. Getting the big picture and seeing all of the options at one time makes it easier to identify trade-offs and compromises that work for everyone.

Be flexible and use your children’s best interest to guide you. Studies show that children do the best after divorce when there’s cooperation between their parents and they maintain ties with their extended family. Don’t promise your children a special family time with you before you reach agreement on that with your former spouse. The holiday schedule should be agreed upon by the adults before information is shared with the children.

Ultimately, the family looks and feels different after divorce, so it’s a great time to come up with new traditions. Instead of the post-Christmas dinner family walk, perhaps you start a post-Christmas dinner karaoke contest instead. If you don’t have your children for a holiday, be pro-active and make a plan for yourself. Find some friends to be with or get involved with charities need an extra hand in the holidays, like a soup kitchen or family shelter. First of anything aren’t easy when you’re freshly separated, but I hope these tips will help steer you through your first holiday season!

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