Handling Divorce Holiday Schedule with Kids

How do divorced families handle the holidays? Well as we know, handling holiday celebrations is a challenge for most families. For separated or divorced families, the holiday stress just increases. Along with attending to the usual holiday events – recitals,  gifts, shopping, travelling, and family gatherings, divorced parents find themselves living with a co-parenting agreement that dictates how holiday time with their children is to be spent. Which can really put a damper on the season to be “Jolly and Merry”.

During the holiday season your children will be taking their cues from you. Keep in mind, your first holidays  separated won’t be hard just for your children; they may also be hard for you. Make sure you are paying attention to your feelings and needs this holiday season.  Take stock of where you might need a little extra support and create a plan for taking care of those needs before your burn out.

You may also discover their first major holiday season following your separation or divorce, is sad because it really emphasizes the loss and break up of their original family. And it may hit them hard. While you can’t take away the pain your children feel, how you spend the first holiday after a separation or divorce can really impact your children’s perception about this family change and their own sense of belonging.

The first set of holidays following a divorce is likely to be the most difficult for both of you because as parents. The two of you might still figuring out what works and what doesn’t in terms of co-parenting.  And the pain from going through separation or  divorce are likely still very new and rare for both of you. so how do divorced families handle the holidays without additional stress, aggregation and hostility?

How do Divorced Families Handle Holidays?

How do divorced families handle holidays? Well each separated or divorced family is different. Some separated or divorced families will celebrate holidays together for their children. It’s important to ensure you don’t give your children any false hopes that you might reconcile and if there is any possibility of fighting, disagreement or tension then please do not try to organize or participate in a  shared holiday meal. Your children do not need to witness your anger or discontent.

Some parents will alternate each holiday on an annual basis. One parent gets even years and the other parent gets the odd years. The emphasis is on trying to be equitable so your children can enjoy uninterrupted time with both families. Though both the children and parent don’t see each other over the holiday.

Other families split the holiday “day” its self in half. One parent spends the morning  with the children and the other parent spends the afternoon. While this allows both parents to celebrate the “special day” with their children, many children find this back and forth to rushed and chaotic.

How you decide to divide or share the holiday season is up to you and your Ex. Think about your children and how their needs will be best met. You may need to try it out for a few years to come up with a holiday co-parenting plan that works for your children.

Focus on Your child’s Best Interests

The holidays are really for children. Just imagine the holiday season from your child’s perspective. They just opened their presents, spending some time with their cousins and grandparents, and hopefully playing with their toys. And before you know it, it’s time to bundle them off to their other parent’s home to repeat the whole event again. Kids to say that doing 2, 3 or 4 holiday meals is just too much. It’s overwhelming and stressful for them to be on their best behaviour at so many different homes.

Splitting the day does allow each parent to see their children but this can be too hectic a schedule for your children. Having to pack up their belongings and hop from home to home can be overwhelming and stressful for children and teens of all ages. Your child may not respond well to the increased number of transitions and interruptions over the holiday season. This can lead to meltdowns, tantrums or teens not wanting to participate in the increased back and forth between homes especially if it involves long drives out of the city.

Prior to the holiday season, parents need to discuss and plan their holiday coparenting  based on their children’s personalities and ability to cope with increased chaos, disruptions, and moving back and forth over the holiday season. What works this year might not be a permanent solution. It might look good on paper but in real life doesn’t work for your children. It takes a lot of adult maturity and courage to sit down and talk about your children and how they are coping with the holiday schedule. Even if you celebrate the same holiday, there are ways to make this work for you and your children.

Help your Children shop for their Parent

Kids get excited about the holidays, shopping or making a gift, and gift giving. Help your child make or purchase a gift for the other parent. It isn’t difficult to do. By helping your child give a gift to their parent they love, you are demonstrating respect  and teaching your child a life long lesson on giving to others. It’s not hard to help your young children find a present for their parent. You don’t want your child to experience everyone else handing out presents and they have nothing to give the person they love.

Ensure you give your child the gift to enjoy the holidays with their parent. No child want sot feel obliged to worry that their Mom or Dad will be alone for the holidays. If you are unable to be with your children during a holiday, encourage your children to enjoy themselves with the other parent and their extended family.

Examine your traditions and those of your EX

Look at how you, your Ex, and your extended family celebrate holidays to see if this can give you an opportunity to find an easier solution to splitting the holidays. Does your family celebrate on the 24th? Are there 8 nights to celebrate? Does either extended family celebrate  the season earlier or wait to celebrate in January?

What holiday traditions are important to you? How do you want to help your children maintain and cherish these traditions? It’s more difficult to build traditions when your children bouncing from house-to-house. And what new and unique traditions can you create with your children that don’t have to focus on just December 25th? What traditions you create are up to you.  Maybe it’s we’re making Granny’s special cookies this weekend. Or we use the good dishes and special tableware.

What traditions do you want to create so you help create lasting memories for your children to pass down to their children with love? Which holiday traditions do you treasure? Ask your kids which holiday traditions or activities they enjoy the most? Maintaining a favourite tradition gives your children a sense that not everything in their life is changing and some things will stay the same.

Examine your own beliefs

Too often we live life on autopilot. This year, especially if it’s your first year separated or divorced, slow down, and focus on what matters most to you and your children.  Before you get caught up in the holiday daze, slow down to avoid going into holiday overdrive.

Do you really need to go to every party? What is your focus for the holidays? The holidays are about family time. This year you could be put your smaller family first on the list. Maybe this year is the year to cut back on holiday obligations. Select the events and dinners that are the most meaningful to you. Which events will be the most beneficial for your younger children? What events will allow your older children and teens to get quality time with you and other family members? Place quality time not quantity of events with your children at the top of your holiday list this year.

Maybe as a recently separated or divorced parent, it’s time for change. Remember you don’t have to re-invent the whole holiday season. Maybe select one new event or tradition that you and your children can enjoy together to make the holidays “yours”. Your quality holiday time together doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s holiday. It just has to be something special you do with your children.  Your family can celebrate any holiday on a day that is not the designated holiday. Don’t let others tell you it’s not a real holiday. Make it your family’s designated day to celebrate together.

Explain Your Holiday Plans Early to your Family

Explain, explain, and explain again. People who are not separated or divorced can sometimes really not understand why you don’t have your kids home for the holidays.  Early in the season send an email, call your parents, talk with your siblings and let them know what your holiday kid schedule is.  Explain to them when your kids will be with you and when you will all be available for family get togethers. Send it in writing circle the dates on the calendar so your family remember and can see when your kids will be home.

Don’t allow your family to guilt you about your separation or divorce and the kids being with your Ex. Gently explain to your family your holiday co parenting schedule. Expect there could be some confusion on why the kids aren’t here until they understand the concept of coparenting.

You can ask your family to celebrate holiday on a day that is not the designated holiday. They don’t have to agree. And that’s OK too.

The most important thing for divorced  and separated parents to remember is that the holidays are about their children and not you or your parents. Even if you are unable to be with your children during a holiday, encourage your children to enjoy themselves with the other parent and their extended family. It was perfectly OK that not everyone we love is here to celebrate the holidays. And we will get through this.