Navigating holidays in a divorce can be stressful at a time when everyone just wants to relax and enjoy themselves. Holidays often have deep emotional roots and figuring out how to handle them in a divorce can create emotional disagreements.
When it comes to holidays the focus needs to be on the things that your children value. Holidays are not a proxy for who is the better parent and relying on the kids to get you through the holidays is not a healthy coping mechanism for anyone. If parents have emotional reactions to holidays or need to grieve for lost traditions, address that with a therapist, not in a co-parenting battle in a divorce negotiation.
To enjoy holidays as much as possible during and after a divorce, follow these tips about the Who, the What, and the When:
The Who: Many traditions around the holidays are not about what the kids are doing, but who they are doing it with. Some families have small immediate family holidays at home, some have large extended family holidays that involve travel. Some have a combination of both over the holidays. Even if traditions need to change, think about how you can have the same people involved in the new traditions, especially the people that are closest to the kids.
Think about your holiday traditions.
The What: Try to find out what traditions your children value. What would they miss if something changed? Do they value the annual trip to see Santa? Do they value a church service? Would they miss the annual service project? Is it important for them to touch base with both parents during a holiday? A lot of kids worry about one parent being alone or OK on holidays if they don’t get to see them. Talk to the kids about what they value and the traditions that are important to them.
In Collaborative Divorce, we often use a Child Neutral to help us understand the children’s perspectives on these issues. Once you know what the kids value, build those traditions into the co-parenting plan.
The When: Non-family lawyers talk about “Christmas”, “Hanukkah”, “Kwanzaa”, “Ramadan”, “Diwali”, “Thanksgiving” and other holidays, and everyone knows what that means colloquially. Family lawyers know that these holidays usually need to be defined in a co-parenting agreement. Is it the day of the holiday only? If so, is it all day or from a specific time in the morning to a specific time later in the day? Is it the entire holiday school break? Is it a long weekend? If it is an extended holiday over a period of days, how will that be shared? Is Thanksgiving just the Thursday, or is it the entire school break?
Keep in mind that divorce will always bring change. Not all change is bad, and a lot of change is what we make of it. New traditions can be as good or better than the old ones. Traditions change over time in all families. It’s OK to create new traditions if they are built around what and who the kids’ value.
There is no one right way to handle holidays in a co-parenting agreement. But by focusing on what the kids value your family’s traditions, and clarity in how you define the holidays, you will simultaneously ease your children’s transitions into the new holiday routines and pre-empt unnecessary future conflict around holiday schedules.
One of the core tenets of my practice is that people need to be very thoughtful and very intentional about how they are going to go through the divorce process. If they don't want a big nasty fight, then they need to take the steps necessary to avoid a big nasty...