Facing the Holiday Season After Divorce

Here are five things to consider in order to make facing the holiday season after divorce easier to manage and enjoyable for everyone.

Each year when the holiday season rolls in, for many of us, it's a pleasure to be pulled into the mounting anticipation and excitement brought on by the promise of good food, good company, and beloved family traditions.

But those traditions can also be a source of grief after a separation or divorce, especially if you are encountering holidays for the first time since your split. Customs you've practiced for years can all of a sudden feel strange and unfamiliar, both to you and your children.

While this may be stressful to think about, it is possible for co-parents to have a happy holiday season that focuses on connecting with family and loved ones. Here are five things to consider in order to make facing the holiday season after divorce easier to manage and enjoyable for everyone.

Know Your Plan and Stick To It

In many co-parenting situations, a holiday custody plan is something that will already have been planned long before the holidays approach. This plan is an important part of any parenting agreement, as it helps to ward off any last-minute surprises that would add to the chaos of an already busy season.

Get this information on your calendar as soon as possible, and keep your decided schedule in mind as you arrange other plans over those dates. This will be important as you tell your various holiday party hosts whether your kids will be attending with you or not.

It's also important that your children know where they will be spending the holidays so that they are prepared for them as well. Let your kids know about this year's arrangements sooner rather than later so that they know what to expect. Once everyone is informed of the holiday plan, make sure that you stick to it. Making last minute changes to the plan will create added stress and, possibly, conflict.

Make New Traditions

Holidays and traditions go hand in hand, so it's no surprise that the season brings out the sentimental side in many of us. Whether it's a tradition that's been passed down for generations or a new custom that was created by you and your co-parent, holiday traditions can play an oversized role in our enjoyment of winter festivities.

While it might sound harsh, it is sometimes necessary to break holiday traditions, or at least radically change how we think of traditions as set or static. Families who are facing the holiday season after divorce or separation will find that some old traditions may need to be adjusted or let go of this year, and that is okay.

It will be sad to let go of some of the things you used to do all together. But you now have an opportunity to create new traditions and memories, making it important to approach your first holiday season after divorce with intention and careful thought.

Ask yourself what is important to you this year. Is it to connect one-on-one with your child or children? Is it to show love and appreciation to those who have helped you throughout the year? Focus on the quality of the connections you will make this holiday season, rather than whether or not those connections adhere to the outline of past traditions.

Besides thinking about what you want out the holidays this year, talk to your kids how they'd like to experience the season. If they seem to be feeling low, ask them to share their feelings with you. Talk to them about why your family is celebrating the holidays differently this year, letting them ask questions freely. Answer those as honestly as possible, while also being mindful to keep your responses age appropriate.

Finally, remind them that making new traditions can be something that you decide together and that they can take any shape or form. Involve your kids as you come up with ideas for things you'd like to do and new traditions you would all like to create this year.

Let Go of Perfection

"This is going to ruin the holidays!" If you've ever heard, said, or thought this phrase, you know how disheartening it can be to think that missing the mark during the holidays can somehow put the entire season in jeopardy. Be kind to yourself by making a concerted effort to banish this phrase from your mind.

Aiming for keeping the festivities running smoothly is certainly something to strive for, but perfection is going to be an unattainable goal that will only add more stress to an atmosphere that is likely already tense. And if you're worried about perfection, anything short of that will feel like a complete failure. All or nothing thinking like this is unhealthy during any season, but it can be particularly damaging during the holidays when the pressure to be perfect is more keenly felt.

As a parent, cut yourself some slack and don't worry about trying to make things perfect. Think about the memories that you really want you and your kids to make this holiday season, and work towards creating that in the most realistic way possible. Don't stress over the little details that you think would make a perfect holiday. Take the situation you're presented with, and make the most of it.

Stay Healthy

With so many things going on around the holidays, it's hard to face it all without feeling more exhausted than usual. For those facing their first holiday season after divorce or separation, maintaining good health will probably be quite the task. Do all that you can to prevent yourself from getting sick.

Get enough sleep, eat well, and fit in some time to exercise to help you to have the energy you need to get through this season. When exercise is too big of an ask, simply taking moments each day to be calm and breathe will help you to overcome moments of stress that can be taxing to your health.

As for your kids, make sure that they also maintain healthy habits during the holidays. Keep them to their regular schedule of meals, homework, exercise, and sleep. Finally, don't forget to mix in some moments of fun into your regular schedule as well as that of your kids. Everyone deserves a break from the everyday routine every now and then, especially during this hectic time. Let your kids spend some extra time with friends or doing things they enjoy, and let yourself have some personal time to do things you enjoy. Taking time for fun will help to improve emotional health in both you and your kids.

Spend Time With Loved Ones

Parents who are facing the holiday season after divorce or separation must deal with the potential reality of not spending each and every holiday with their kids. Many holiday custody schedules are worked out in such a way that allows parents to rotate most holidays so one parent may be with their child over a holiday this year but not next year.

Whether you will be spending holidays during this holiday season with or without your kids, connect with loved ones. Get together with friends and family to enjoy the holiday instead of spending it alone at home. Experiencing the holidays with loved ones will help to lessen the negative emotions you may be feeling during this time of year.

Facing the holiday season after divorce may be one of the hardest adjustments you encounter as a co-parent. With emotions running high at that time of year, it can feel impossible to see past the uprooting of beloved traditions and focus on building something new. Allow yourself some space to grieve, but don’t allow a strict adherence to past traditions overcome your enjoyment of family and friends.


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.