10 Tips for Handling the First Holidays After Divorce

woman looking sad with a christmas tree in background

The first year after your divorce is finalized has its own set of ‘firsts’ that can create stress, uncertainty, and hard feelings. This is especially true during the holiday season. Celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays after divorce can open wounds you thought were closed, and create unexpected conflict between co-parents. If you and your ex-spouse already have trouble communicating, sharing the first holidays after divorce can push tensions even higher. Here are 10 tips for handling your first holiday season after divorce and preserving your holiday spirit.

How to Share Your First Holidays After Divorce

  1. Putting children first
  2. Start planning early
  3. Leaving space to grieve
  4. Being flexible when possible
  5. Standing between family drama and kids
  6. Falling back on your parenting time schedule
  7. Being up-front about gift-giving
  8. Inviting kids to talk about their feelings and expectations
  9. Spending time together as divorced parents, if possible
  10. Creating new traditions together

Sharing Holidays After Divorce During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Putting your children first is the most important thing, but the overall health of your family also has to be prioritized. During this time, you will want to take precautions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Starting to plan early, remaining flexible, falling back on your parenting schedule, staying neutral when family tensions arise, and creating new traditions during this time are all elements that should be taken into consideration. Along with our guidance for sharing your first holiday after divorce, please take a moment to read more about parenting time during the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan.

1. Putting children first

Think about your own childhood memories. How many involve Thanksgiving dinners, opening Christmas presents, or sitting down to a Seder meal? Any time there are children involved in a divorce, their needs should be at the center of any plan moving forward. As you start to think about your first holidays after divorce, try to put your children’s experience first, helping them to create those happy memories, even if it means you have to make more compromises than you would like.

2. Starting to plan early

Successful holiday planning starts well before the start of the formal holiday season. The conversation about who will spend time where and when, should start as soon as you start to get dates for your family get togethers, parties, and traditions. Make a shared calendar with your kids and co-parents, where everyone can add events they want to attend. That way, when conflicts arise you have time to talk about them, make compromises, and find solutions without the pressure of a looming deadline.

3. Being flexible when possible

When scheduling conflicts arise, be flexible. If possible, trade parenting time so the kids can be involved where they want to be. This flexibility is especially important in 2020, when everyone is having to adjust their normal holiday traditions to stay safe and healthy. When it isn’t possible to adjust your parenting time schedule, be clear about why and make sure it isn’t just because giving into your ex-spouse doesn’t make you happy.

4. Inviting kids to talk about their feelings and expectations

Scheduling decisions and custody disputes are adult conversations, but they affect your kids. Remember that this will be their first holiday season post-divorce, too. Consider your children’s feelings as well as your own priorities. Ask them about their preferences and priorities.n. Invite them to share how they feel about going to Grandma’s on Thanksgiving or skipping the family Christmas party. While they make not get the final say, demonstrate that their opinion is part of the conversation.

5. Falling back on your parenting time schedule

Sometimes a co-parent can make unreasonable demands and the conflict around negotiating parenting exchanges can prevent a happy holiday season. Remember that your custody and parenting time order most likely includes a holiday parenting time schedule. It can be appropriate to insist that this order be followed and not give in to demands for changes just because it is the holiday season. If necessary, consider talking to a family law attorney about strategies to resolve conflict or mediate disputes about holiday parenting time.

6. Standing between family drama and kids

Once you and your co-parent come to a decision, or a judge enters an order, it is your job to keep those decisions from affecting your children. Don’t let grandparents and other family members raise drama during family get togethers or make your kids feel bad about choosing to spend time with their parent. Be firm with your relatives and friends and set clear boundaries about whether your kids will or will not attend family events.

7. Leaving space to grieve

Most advice for going through divorce deals with the practical aspects of separating households and navigating parenting time exchanges. However, especially around the holidays, you also need to address the emotional impact of divorce. Facing your first holiday season without your spouse, you will be reminded that things aren’t going to be the same, and that a chapter of your life has ended. Be kind to yourself and leave space to process that grief.

8. Being up-front about gift-giving

Another area that causes tension around the holiday season is gift-giving. Parents often have different gift budgets or expectations around presents. Christmas gifts can also raise legal custody questions such as whether a child should have a cell phone or access to social media. If your co-parenting relationship allows it, discuss these big purchases with your former spouse beforehand. This will avoid conflict and disappointment, not to mention standing in long return lines if you both had the same gift-giving ideas.

9. Spending time together as divorced parents, if it feels right

Newly divorced couples often wonder, should divorce parents spend holidays together? The short answer is it depends on your relationship with your co-parent. If you can act as partners, having a shared gift-giving experience, or holiday meal can help your kids feel connected to both sides of their family. However, if the stress of divorce will cause conflict, it may be better to have separate holiday celebrations.

10. Building new traditions

A great way for divorced families to navigate the holidays is to take the opportunity to create new traditions together. Single parents and their kids have a chance to define their new normal. Ask your kids what they always wished they could do, like baking cookies or going for a Christmas morning hike. Be open to new ideas. You might just start something new they’ll never forget.

At NSSSB, we want you and your family to have a happy holiday season. Our Ann Arbor family law attorneys can help you resolve disputes that arise about holiday parenting time, gift-giving, and other issues, so that you can focus on creating new memories. Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.