For most people, the holiday season is the happiest of times, but for families in the middle of a divorce or after the conclusion of a divorce, this season can be the toughest. Parents often say their top goal in the divorce is that the children’s lives don’t change. But realistically, whether because of divorce or other circumstances, children’s lives do change. If parents can take care of themselves so that their own pain from the divorce is not the overriding shadow darkening the holidays, they can use this time as one of the greatest teaching moments as parents. For this reason, we have put together a 3-part holiday planning series to help divorcing or divorced parents navigate the holidays with as much ease and joy as possible.
Here, in Part 1, we focus on families who are in the middle of the divorce process or have only just recently decided to end their marriage. This can be a tricky time because when you’re in the early or middle stages of divorce, a final agreement has not been reached and finalized.
Like so much of a family’s life during this time, everything, including the holidays, feels like it is in suspense. In a pending divorce, when parents are preparing for and attending meetings with their attorneys and other divorce professionals, the process can leave them feeling overwhelmed with their day-to-day lives. Suddenly, one of the holidays is just around the corner and it hits them: what are we doing this year? Here are some holiday planning considerations for parents in the middle of a divorce.
The Importance of Maintaining Family Traditions
Think About Holiday Traditions From Your Child’s View Point
If parents really don’t want their children’s lives to have drastic changes while the divorce is pending, they would do well to think of what traditions the children are used to. Did the family usually go to a certain sister-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve? Do they always spend Thanksgiving with all the cousins in another state? Parents should think about what those traditions mean to their children. Children need to know that while their nuclear family may feel a little shaky for the moment, they are part of a much larger family and that can make them feel more secure.
If parents can take a step back and think about the importance of traditions in their children’s lives, and how much their children would miss out if those were taken from them, they will be successful in helping their children handle and accept the changes that come with a divorce. Flexibility, compassionate thinking, and common sense are the best guides for navigating the holiday experience for the children whose families are going through a divorce.
Let’s Talk About Specific Holidays: Think Creatively and Sensibly
1. Winter Break/Christmas and Hanukah
In most cases, children have about ten days to two weeks off from school for their Winter break. How has the family historically spent time during this break? While keeping things the same may be ideal, it may not make sense given the new logistics of your lives. Are one or both parents required to work most of the break? If so, it might make sense to keep the normal parenting schedule, except for the specific holidays. Would one parent like to travel with the children? As difficult as it may be to see your children leave town with the other parent to visit extended family, it is also a good opportunity for you to take time for yourself and plan how you will spend time without the children in a way that will be a positive experience. Taking time for yourself is essential when you’re trying to manage stress. Finding ways to have a satisfying holiday for yourself will demonstrate to the children that you’re ok and they don’t need to worry about you.
2. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
One of the toughest things for divorcing or divorced parents is the thought of their children not waking up in their own home on Christmas morning. One parent will be strongly attached to this idealized picture of Christmas morning, while the other parent is feeling resentful that he or she won’t be there for that special moment. Some divorcing parents deal with this by agreeing that BOTH parents will be there in the morning when the kids are opening their gifts. But if that’s not possible, remember that many kids don’t care where they sleep on Christmas Eve; all they really care about is whether Santa’s coming. For most younger children, conceptually this is not difficult because they believe that Santa goes to every house, right? Parents should take a breath and make their primary consideration be about what the kids’ experience will be. They may also need to remind their own parents that not seeing their grandchildren on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is nothing to be taken personally. Grandparents need to be flexible too and not put undue pressure on their adult children when they are in the middle of a divorce.
For some families, celebrating the 8 days of Hanukah are a strong tradition where certain days of the holiday have always been celebrated a certain way. Just like the suggestions for Christmas, the parents AND their extended families should work together to share that time so that their children either have the same traditions that they have enjoyed in the past or so that they can comfortably transition to new traditions.
A divorce that is pending during the holidays is still a raw nerve for the divorcing couple, but it is also raw for the children. Both parents putting the interests of the children first during this time will help to ease any difficult emotions and make the holidays better for the children. If you want to discuss ideas for how to work out a parenting plan around the upcoming holidays, contact Vacca Family Law Group to speak with one of our attorneys.