How To Do Holidays In Divorce

Holidays in divorce can suck holy hell.

There's the loneliness factor, the confusion factor, the "Fuck-do-I-really-have-to-collaborate-with-the-one-person-who-stresses-me-out-the-most?" factor. There's the who's-traveling-when factor, the "But-will-I-still-get-to-see-my-in-laws?" factor, the "Who-do-I-buy-presents-for-now?" factor. And the worst factor of all: Will I wake up alone on Christmas morning?

While I can't answer all of these questions for you specifically, there are a few ways you can make the holidays somewhat less hellish for yourself and your kids.

Consult your agreement

The first thing you’ll need to figure out is what your divorce/co-parenting agreement stipulates about the holidays. If your divorce is one in which there needs to be strict adherence to stipulations, work all plans out around that. If you have a more loose and collaborative relationship with your ex, don’t wait till the last minute; start talking about the holidays now!

Be generous

For the last few years, I have taken my son to Mexico to spend Thanksgiving with my dad and his girlfriend. My ex has been very generous about this, putting my son’s experience in Mexico with his grandfather who lives 3,000 miles away above his need to see his son on Thanksgiving. Granted, Thanksgiving isn’t the most emotionally charged holiday in the world, but if he’d been putting his needs first, he could have fought me doing this year after year. Neither of us can imagine taking our son away from the other parent over Christmas, so that’s literally never been a thing. Had either of us been less generous about this, we may have fought to take our son away to visit family out of town over Christmas; instead, we've opted to schedule these trips over New Year's.

Be flexible

If your ex has your kids on Thanksgiving day, consider celebrating Thanksgiving with your kids on Saturday this year, or move your big Christmas celebration to Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve if your schedule calls for that. Your kids won’t get upset about having two celebrations, so even if it’s not on the exact “right” day, consider switching things up a bit to accommodate a changing custody schedule.

Coordinate as much as possible

Rather than try to compete with the other parent over gifts or time, try to coordinate as much as possible. Our son’s gifts are all either from Santa or Mom + Dad. (Now that he’s 12, Santa may not factor...we’ll see about that!) Each year, we go over our son’s Christmas list together and decide who’s going to buy what. Then, depending on whose house our son wakes up at, the other sneaks the Santa gifts over at some point. Other families choose to have Santa visit both houses. Magic!! However you choose to work it, the best bet is to coordinate, and not compete.

Help your kids buy a gift for the other parent

Be sure to support your children in celebrating your co-parent. Take them shopping or help them with a craft project to give as as gift to their other parent. You’ll be teaching your kids how to be generous during the holiday season and sending a message that you honor your co-parent, no matter how bad your relationship may be behind the scenes. And when your kids present you with a gift that your ex helped them get for you, cherish it. Don’t make any negative remarks about where it came from. Be gracious and say “thank you.”

Forge new traditions

Holidays in divorce can be depressing and unmooring. The more you are cared for, the better. Consider how you’d like to spend the holidays. What traditions would make you feel good? Is there a group of friends or family you can rely on for holiday dinners whether you have your children or not? This can be a really hard one given the inconsistency inherent in shared holidays or rotating custody schedules for the holidays, but as much as you can begin to forge your own traditions the better—for your kids, and for you.

Don’t split the day

Splitting the holiday halfway through the day is disruptive and depressing. Consider having one parent have Christmas Eve, while the other has Christmas Day. Perhaps alternate each year. In my family, my son usually spends Christmas Eve with me, and wakes up here to do Santa presents. After my ex has done Santa presents with his younger son at his house, he comes over to my house, as does my mom. We have our small family Christmas morning together opening presents, and then my ex takes my son with him to celebrate the rest of the day at his house. My mom and I then do something else together, often hosting a small dinner that evening with other divorced moms. If your ex has your kids for Thanksgiving, consider having another Thanksgiving dinner on Friday or Saturday if it's important to you, rather than shuffling your kids back and forth halfway through the day.

Practice self-care

If you have to spend part (or all) of your holiday without your kids, be sure to practice some serious self-care. Continue to exercise, eat a healthy, balanced diet, and try not to drink too much. Take a cue from the true meaning of the holidays and practice gratitude as much as possible. Try to keep yourself as centered as possible, so your children feel secure as well. Remember, they’ll be taking their cues from you, and they may feel as disrupted and out of whack as you do. The more you take care of yourself, the better prepared you’ll be to support them. Put your own oxygen mask on first!

Holidays in divorce can be tricky, but they don’t have to completely crush your soul.

Have questions you need answered before the holidays really get into gear? Submit them here.

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Kate Anthony

Kate Anthony, CPCC is a certified life coach who specializes in co-parenting, separation and divorce. Kate's expertise lies in the areas of parenting, supporting children through divorce, creating co-parenting plans, and helping couples create a healthy split that keeps children at the center, not in the middle.