For parents who are considering divorce, the prospect of having to change holiday traditions can be daunting. From the time the kids are very small, many parents love to create traditions for religious and civic holidays. Repeating those traditions by having the same foods and activities can be deeply grounding and fulfilling for children and parents alike. When you divorce, change is part of the package, so at least some of these traditions are going to be disrupted. Below are a few ideas for avoiding the Ghost of Holidays Past both during and after your divorce.
- Keep doing the holidays together post-divorce. Many families handle this well and children love having both of their parents attend events involving them. The secret is to create an excellent Parenting Plan during your divorce which covers who will host the holiday events, which extended family members will be invited (or not!), how you’ll share responsibility for gifts and more. Couples who choose a Collaborative Divorce process will get help from Communications Coaches to create a plan which works well for the children and the parents.
- Take a “Dates Don’t Matter” attitude. For couples with ongoing conflict, it can be just better to create new traditions in separate households. With two homes and only one holiday date on the calendar, though, it’s hard. Many parents create an “every other year” plan, with holidays alternating between Mom’s house and Dad’s house on even and odd years. This doesn’t have to mean that there’s no holiday at the other household. What if every year the new tradition is that the kids have the holiday on the date on the calendar with one parent and ANOTHER version of the same holiday a week later with the other parent? Not very many children would object to this plan. It’s hardest on the parent who will not have the children on the calendar date of the holiday. There are ways to deal with this. (See #4.)
- Slice the day. For parents who live close in proximity it can definitely work to split holidays. One parent has a few days before and the morning of the holiday and the other has the afternoon of the holiday and a few days afterward. The advantage to kids: two holidays! The advantage to parents, they get to celebrate with their kids on the actual holiday dates.
- Plan to use the time wisely when your kids are with their other parent. Learning to share parenting is often the hardest thing about divorce. Giving up half of your precious time with your kids can be heartbreaking. I don’t want to minimize this. It’s awful. And. Eventually, wise parents come to accept that the “guilt free childcare” that happens when their kids are with their other parent frees up much-needed time. They use this time to get other stuff done so that they can be fully present when they are with their kids. So, on that date on the calendar when others are celebrating the holiday, use the time to wrap presents, get the laundry done, pre-cook some meals and meet with your single friends who are feeling lonely.
Divorce means that new traditions will need to be planned and established. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be liberating and fun to let go of traditions that never worked and embrace new things to eat, see, and do. If you are planning to divorce in the next year, no need to be scared. However, it is important to set things up so that you and your spouse can solve all the problems that will need to be solved, including how to handle the holidays, with respect and dignity. The Divorce Options Class is one way to get more information about how to do this.
BETH PROUDFOOT, LMFT is a Collaborative Divorce Communications Coach and Child Specialist in Northern California. Her website is www.bethproudfoot.com