Kids First: Advice for Handling Holidays and Celebrations

This is our 4th post from the book “Kids First: What Kids Want Grown-Ups to Know about Separation and Divorce”.  The book is a collection of the knowledge gained by the staff and volunteers at the Kids First Center over the 25 years they have been working with families going through separation and divorce.

In the post “How to Survive the Holidays and Create New Holiday Traditions after Divorce,” we focused on how adults can take of themselves which enables parents to be supportive of their kids during holidays. In this post, we focus on the kids and how parents can increase the chances their children will have positive memories about times that can be stressful and emotionally charged.

Begin early.

Don’t wait until the day before – or even a few days before – a major holiday to work out with your ex how the holiday is going to go. Families tend to be attached to their holiday traditions and there is inevitably some change in these traditions after a divorce. Negotiating how the holidays will go takes time and often, extended family members want to weigh in too. Starting the discussion early helps get everyone on the same page and reduces the chance of conflict.

Be specific.

Specific and detailed holiday plans will provide kids with the security of knowing they have a plan they can count on. In our previous post about surviving the holidays, we offer detailed advice on how to clarify and document how you want the holidays to go. The more specific you can get, the more you know about when pick-up and drop-off need to happen, what you need to do, and what you need to discuss with your former spouse and extended family members.

Include the kids.

Depending on how old your kids are, getting their input on where to spend the holidays and what to do can help them buy into new traditions and feel more in control of what’s happening. For younger kids, it’s wise for parents to make the major decisions such as where the day will be spent but give your child choices about smaller decisions such as what foods to make or how to decorate. For older children, you can have a more open-ended conversation about how they’d like the holiday to go. Regardless, of the age of your children you need to make clear that while you want their input, the adults will make the final decisions.

Be open and flexible.

Once you’ve made your plans for the holiday, try not to get too attached to outcomes because it’s entirely possible things won’t go quite as you expected. As Kids First says, “This is a time for parents to have low expectations while maintaining a ‘let’s make the best of it attitude.’”

Though parents are urged to get specific about details for holiday events, it is also unrealistic to insist things stay the same as the years go by. When kids get older and parents move on to new relationships, your new traditions may need to evolve too. It’s good for kids to have some predictability from year to year but you should check in with them to see what they want to do. While large things such as location might change from year to year, the traditions that stay the same over time might be small ones such as who sets the table or who makes a favorite dessert.

Holiday Dont’s

No Surprises.

You or your former spouse may be excited about your new significant other but holidays are not the time to introduce your children to them. Nor are the holidays the appropriate time to tell kids big news like a move. Big news and big holidays are not good combinations. Even if you and your ex communicate well, there’s a strong chance your kids have anxiety about how the holidays are going to go, and the more practicable the holidays are, the easier they will be on everyone. Big news should be communicated several days before or after a holiday, birthday, or other types of major anniversaries.

No issues.

Holiday drop-off and pick-up times are NOT the time to bring up issues with your former spouse. Remember to keep the day about the kids. You don’t want your children to remember holidays as times their parents fought. You want them to remember holidays as good times.

One Last Thing to Keep in Mind

Even years after a divorce, holidays can trigger difficult feelings for kids. Don’t be surprised if they act out or are moody for seemingly no reason. Once again, keep it about the kids, keep the lines of communication open and be flexible.

Learn More

To learn more about how divorce mediation can help your case, contact any of our Divorce Attorney Mediators or Certified Divorce Financial Analysts at CT Divorce Mediation Centers. Divorce and Family Mediation and Collaborative Law are all we do. We have offices in Madison, New Haven, Cheshire, West Hartford, Glastonbury, West Hartford, and Windsor, CT. To find out more information or to schedule a consultation with our divorce experts, call us at (860) 986-1141.

DISCLAIMER:This publication is not meant to constitute legal, accounting, financial, investment advisory, or other professional advice. If legal, financial, investment advisory or other professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person such as CT Divorce Mediation center, should be sought.