If you are recently divorced and have worked out your post divorce holiday schedule with your ex, can you sit back and relax and enjoy the mashed potatoes? Maybe. This post divorce holiday season, consider a few key areas to make sure the holidays are as stress free as they can be for your children. Mainly, these areas of concern involve grandparents, holiday traditions and suggestions for how to divide holiday celebrations.
In this blog post, we discuss post divorce holiday concerns with suggestions and input from our clients. So whether you say Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa or Yuletide Greetings, know that you’ve done your best to make the holidays happy and bright for your children. After all, research shows positive childhood memories serve as “anchors” and provide comfort when life takes an unexpected turn. Another bonus? Happy childhood memories help children regulate stress, build concentration, and increase their attention span.
You may be keenly aware of how you and your ex spouse are navigating the post divorce holiday season, but what about your in-laws and your parents are dealing? Flexibility is a really important skill for children to master but acknowledge when their grandparents might not be as amenable to a change of plans. These adaptations are only something to be upset about if we can’t see the value in what is truly important and that is whatever time spent together should be quality time. Does spending less time at your in-laws or your parents home make it any less special? Of course not. Also, being beholden to Christmas eve or Christmas Day can spell disappointment if you’re trying to juggle multiple home visits. Where is the harm in planning a “Christmas visit” on December 27th if it works for everyone’s schedule?
If grandparents are able and willing to travel, offer to host them at your home to minimize the drive time and lessen the need for everyone to prepare a meal and clean and prepare their home. On the other end of the spectrum, if grandparents are loathe to change their holiday plans and insist on having things their way regardless of how it affects the children, it’s time to employ the “We’re sticking with (insert the blank) arrangement this holiday season. If you’d like to see the kids in January, we’d be happy to set up a time then. (See consideration #3) Remember, as a wise and funny person once said, You are not pizza, you can’t please everyone. We add, “Nor should you, especially at the expense of you or your family’s happiness or stress level.”
Keep in mind that a different life warrants different celebrations. Consider that the activities you enjoyed as a family don’t transfer when one party is no longer there. Especially if the reason you began going out and chopping down a tree was because your ex husband always did with his family. Why would you want to keep up a tradition that didn’t even originate with your marriage? What is something you can create with your children to create a new tradition? It doesn’t have to be earth shaking. Ideas include holiday movies and tree decorating. Caroling in your neighborhood or having a white elephant exchange, the possibilities are endless. Even if you decide not to celebrate in a particular way or with a festive dish - it doesn’t mean your children won’t get a dose of nostalgia elsewhere (See grandparents or other spouse)
One popular way is to alternate holidays with your ex spouse so for instance, Christmas Eve is spent with one parent one year and with the other parent the following year. When this has been agreed to, it allows each parent to make plans a year in advance based on this schedule. Alternating holidays means more uninterrupted time and not having to rush from one location to another. The obvious downside to alternating may be most acutely felt by the parent who doesn’t make plans or stay busy when they are without their children.
Another holiday arrangement is splitting holidays. When you split holidays, the child’s holiday time is split between both parents. This way, each parent has the child for a specific number of hours or until a set time. In most cases, one parent takes the child for the first half of the day while the other parent gets the second half. This will work best if you ive relatively close to your ex-spouse and when you have a pretty amicable relationship as there will be more regular exchanges between you two. The downside occurs if you feel rushed as you only have half day to spend with your children but you try to squeeze an entire days activity in half the time.
A third arrangement is fixed holidays. This might happen when spouses practice different religions and their respective religious or cultural celebrations fall on non overlapping days. When these fixed holidays control the schedule, it removes contention and allows for time for each parent to celebrate in a way that doesn’t take away time from their ex spouse.
A fourth arrangement is to double up on the post divorce holiday with two or even four potential Christmases, New Years’s etc. if the children have both grandparents and there’s no way to combine visits. The upside is that the children get to celebrate all the holidays with all the possible family members so long as distance is not an issue. However, perhaps instead of four gifts, it may be less contentious to buy joint gifts so it doesn’t turn into a gifting competition and too many toys taking over each spouse’s home.
A fifth way to divvy up holidays is to celebrate the holidays together as you did pre-divorce. Obviously you’ll want to discuss if significant others will also be included prior to remarriage but this arrangement is the closest reincarnation of pre-divorce life.
The final way to deal with holidays is to allow the parenting plan to dictate holidays. This can be easier to plan around since you know in advance if your ex spouse has Thursdays through Sundays and if Christmas eve and Christmas Day fall in that window, then you can keep to the parenting plan without any extra discussion.
Selecting any of these arrangements is preferable to turning to your ex spouse each year and saying, “So what should we do about the holidays?” There’s no rule that you have to pick one way and stick with it for eternity either. Flexibility helps them navigate social challenges in their own lives. We’ve all seen adults who are severely deficient in flexible thinking and since this executive function is set by the age of 20, making their behavior nearly impossible to change, our children still have time to learn this important life skill.
The holiday season is full of memories, nostalgia, traditions and this doesn’t change with a divorce decree. Get creative, stay flexible and keep the lines of communication open with all family members who appreciate the magic of the holidays. Consider this blog post as just another piece of advice from a divorce professional reminding you to keep your expectations hopeful, celebrate your own way and remain cordial. Each month, check out our blog for more friendly tips and advice.