With Kids and Divorce, There’s More Than a "Day" in Holiday
For most of us, the best childhood memories center on special family times like vacations and holidays. The traditions we follow are treasured memories that remind us what "family" means.
How do children of divorce experience those holiday occasions? Holidays may provoke intense, emotional responses - especially in the first year after the divorce. Parents play a role in how children experience holidays and special days such as birthdays. There are some things parents can keep in mind to help ease the difficulty of holidays.
Parents need to decide well in advance of the holiday or occasion where the child will be and what type of schedule is expected. It may please the parents to have their children be part of all of the family festivities, but if it means an unrealistic amount of travel and excitement, parents may want to re-think the plan. Older children will want to help decide how they spend their day, and if reasonable, parents should try to make it work.
When dividing the holidays, parents should explore every possibility. Examine what the most significant aspects of the holiday are for the parents and children and see what makes sense. Most parents alternate holidays, or have the children spend the "eve" in one home and the "day" in another. Especially during the first year, children often feel the intense pain of not being able to spend holidays with both parents together.
Here are some additional guidelines for holiday plans:
- Examine your family traditions. This may be a good time to start new traditions or alter ones that are no longer working for your new family. If you will be alone for part of the holiday, be sure to make plans that involve other people.
- Plan ahead as far as possible and let your children know what the plan is well in advance. Remember that there is more than a "day" in holiday. In fact, most occasions are little seasons unto themselves with multiple events for celebration. Celebrate the different facets of the holiday.
- Consider occasionally splitting the children so that one parent isn't alone. Some children enjoy that "special" alone time with a parent.
- Is it workable for the whole family to be together? If parents are getting along well, children enjoy having everyone together on some special occasions.
- Allow discussion of memories of past holidays. Invite children to talk about how they feel. You may not be able to "fix" it, but at least you have an understanding of their feelings.
- Don't let competition between parents become an undue burden for the kids. Trying to outdo each other with gifts and activities results in overindulged children and parents who are angry with each other.
- Spend time with your children. Children pick up their ideas from their parents, so be sure you are sending the message you want to send about the meaning of the holiday.
Creating a Parenting Plan, an important step in caring for children in different households, may also be helpful.
You may also be interested in Holiday Gifts when Parents are Divorced.
Lansky, Vicki (1996). Vicki Lanskey’s divorce book for parents: Helping your children cope with divorce and its aftermath. Book Peddlers.
Neuman, M. Gary (1998). Helping your kids cope with divorce. Times Books: Random House.