Despite all its overt warm-fuzziness and merriment, the most challenging and emotionally difficult time of the year after a break-up is invariably the holidays – particularly when kids are involved. How do you navigate arrangements for two separate households without making the kids feel like transients or the adults feel cheated? And after years of sharing family gatherings and traditions with your ex, how can you make the holidays fun and enjoyable for you and your kids and avoid getting mired in melancholy reflecting on the Ghosts Of Christmases (or Hanukkahs) past? Some ideas:
Develop a game plan ahead of time that both parents are comfortable with. For me, Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two holidays I have a hard time imagining spending without my daughter. So every year, my ex and I have worked things out so that our daughter is with both of us – together and/or separately – on those two days, no matter what. It’s really about flexibility and prioritizing, and realizing that you both want what’s best for your kid(s) – which, generally-speaking, is to be with both parents for at least part of the holidays. And relatedly…
If you and your ex get along, try to celebrate the holidays together. For the past two years my ex and I have spent Christmas day together with our daughter at my house (which was at one time our family’s home, and is the place my daughter has celebrated Christmas since she was a toddler), and Thanksgiving day at alternate homes. Last Christmas day, my ex, his girlfriend, my boyfriend and myself all spent Christmas morning and afternoon together with my daughter. Later that day, my ex took our daughter to go visit her grandparents (my ex’s extended family lives relatively close, whereas mine lives many states away). By doing things this way, our daughter was able to have her family together at home, everyone enjoyed themselves, and no one felt cheated. (I’m sure the spiked egg nog didn’t hurt.)
Forge new traditions with your kids. Some holiday traditions from your shared, before-the-split past may be worth keeping, but try to create some new ones for your new version of ‘family.’ Whether that’s making holiday decorations, preparing a special meal, or watching “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” together every Thanksgiving day, add something completely new and different to the holiday repertoire and thereby make it your own. When I was a kid, my family always had lasagna on Christmas Eve – this is a tradition my ex and I didn’t keep together, so I plan to bring it back now as a special holiday ritual I can share every year with my daughter.
Make the holidays about more than just family. It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday drumbeat of family, family, family and end up feeling like you’re an outsider looking in on a nuclear-family-focused culture. But the truth is, the holidays aren’t just about family. They’re about friends, acquaintances, coworkers, community, and giving back, too. They’re about gratitude and love – neither of which is exclusive to family, nuclear or otherwise. Try to shift your own attention and attitude away from family, focus on the encompassing spirit of the season, and spend time doing good for others and visiting with friends. Emphasize the joy of the season over the traditional family-specific circus, and you’ll be much more likely to have holly jolly holidays.
Have ideas of your own about how to get through the holidays after a split? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments! I’d love to hear your tips, what’s worked for you and your kids, and how you plan get through (and of course, enjoy, god willing) this most wonderful time of year.
Read more from Tracey Gaughran-Perez at her personal blog Sweetney.com