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Navigating the Holiday Minefield During a Divorce

By Debra Schoenberg

 Thanksgiving just passed and now Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years are just around the corner. For divorced or separated couples that means tension, drama, arguments, and more. Children of divorced parents already face a number of challenges, and the holidays only complicate matters further.

Even for couples not battling over custody, handling “who gets the kids” during this special time of year will create serious conflict without a clear plan. Ultimately, the needs of the children should always come first. However, what that means might be open to interpretation. For example, while kids may want to be with a particular side of the family, a parent may not think that is the best thing for them. Here are some tips that can help divorced or separated couples with children deal with major holidays.

Plan Ahead

Scrambling at the last minute to decide who gets the kids can cause confrontation. It’s a good idea to start the conversation well in advance of the holiday to avoid unnecessary stress. If your children are old enough you can include them in the decision-making process. You may find yourself feeling lonely or sad on holidays when you don’t have your kids. This is an opportunity to dust off the address book and make plans with an old friend or find an activity that makes you feel happy. If you don’t have children, use this as an opportunity to reach out to extended family or friends and let them know you’re alone for the holiday. Often times, people are intimidated by divorce and are hesitant to reach out and ask about your situation. By breaking the ice, you may find they are very receptive once you’ve let them know you are on your own.

Alternating holidays

While tricky, swapping holidays is a way for one parent to get the children for a specific holiday without having to worry about exchanging the kids later in the day. For example, one parent gets Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, the other gets Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

Multiple holiday celebrations

For families that celebrate Christmas, Christmas Eve can feel just as special and have the same spiritual significance. By splitting these days, each parent can have a day to exchange gifts and share a meal to mark the holiday. Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday of November, but most people are off for at least Thursday and Friday, so dividing up the holiday that way (one parent gets Thursday, the other Friday) is a way to find a compromise and still have a great holiday. If each parent wants to ring in the new year with the kids, one can take New Year’s Eve and the other can have New Year’s Day which gives everyone a chance to feel included in the festivities.

Splitting holidays by faith

Many marriages are made up of couples who come from different faith backgrounds. In this instance, religious holidays can be spent with the corresponding parent. A parent of the Jewish faith would obviously get Hanukah and a Catholic or Protestant parent would get the children on Christmas.

Setting up a plan for any holiday vacations

Many people travel for the holidays, either going to see family or simply enjoying some time away from home. It’s important to have a discussion with your ex while in the planning stages of a vacation. If one parent plans to travel across the country before a big holiday, the other parent needs to be prepared for that and talk out what that looks like.

Start new traditions

Holidays are known for time-honored family traditions which is why this time of year is so difficult for divorced people. One way to get past the sentimental slump is to create new rituals and traditions for your transitioning life. One place to look for inspiration is your cultural heritage. Research new rituals that may offer new ways to appreciate the holiday and learn more about your background which you can share with your children.

None of these are perfect solutions, but these tips can help when a separated or divorced couple is trying to make the holidays as fun as possible for their kids. Even if your life is still in flux, you still have choices on how you want to handle the holidays. By finding new and creative ways to celebrate you can create meaningful traditions for you and your loved ones.