Family holidays after divorce may seem intimidating, but they’re also an opportunity to create new traditions. After all, part of the anxiety is that you know they won’t be the same as they used to be—but you can find opportunities in the unknown and turn that stress into something to get excited about.
In turn, the new traditions you create may become some of your all-time favorites.
Make new plans with your children
Start by recognizing that the holidays are going to look different going forward. Acknowledging this—both to yourself and your children—will make it easier to adjust expectations.
It can also be helpful to include your children in coming up with new plans or new ideas. (In ways that are appropriate to their ages, of course.) Should you visit someplace new like a house decorated in lights? Should you decorate your home with a new type of holiday decor so that it feels refreshed? Should you try a new dish?
Consider asking them what they want to do or what part of the holidays is most exciting for them. Create something special around that aspect of the holiday to make it feel like something to continue looking forward to.
However, remember that finding new traditions doesn’t mean you have to scrap everything you loved about years past. You can still serve the same dishes, participate in the same activities, or share the same holiday rituals as before—just be aware they might feel differently right now, especially if your separation or divorce is very recent.
Create a schedule with your co-parent
If possible, work with your co-parent to create a schedule that makes sense for both of you and your children and allows you both to enjoy the magic of the holiday season with family.
If your divorce settlement included a co-parenting schedule, that’s a great starting point, but if it’s something you crafted a few years ago, you should still make time to review it with your co-parent so that you’re both on the same page for this holiday season.
However you make the holiday schedule, do so well in advance. This gives you time to plan and gives your children plenty of time to know what to expect. Minimizing schedule surprises can go a long way toward creating a sense of stability for them.
Show your children they’re a priority
Once you and your co-parent have agreed on a schedule, prioritize your time with your children. Being present with them at the moment, especially if this year’s schedule calls for sharing them with your co-parent, can make all of the difference. Maybe see if you can find some time off during their school breaks for day trips or just blocks of time you can spend together.
Think critically about your social calendar, too. This doesn’t mean you have to stop spending time with anyone but your children, but just make sure you’re not overcommitting to compensate for what seems different to you. If there are other families your family is close with, you may want to plan some activities—or even the main holiday—with them. But it’s also okay to reinvent what the holidays mean to your family.
The same goes for spending time with your own family. Again, it can be great to consult your children as part of this process. Showing your children they’re a priority by doing things that are meaningful to them helps communicate how much you love and value them.
Create a meaningful tradition for yourself
If you’re going to be alone for a meaningful holiday or time around a holiday that was previously devoted to family traditions, create a plan that you’ll look forward to.
Connect with your friends and family, perhaps joining them for the holiday itself. If plans with others don’t work out, consider doing something that lets you give back, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen.
While planning for holidays after divorce may feel difficult—particularly if you’re worried you’ll be missing your children—it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It will likely still feel better than spending the time alone. Likewise, having something to look forward to will help you be in a better space when you’re around your children, either before or after the holiday.
After all, you’re a great candidate to model for them that while change can be challenging, it’s still possible to be resilient and create new meaning as you move forward.
Manage the weight of expectations
Try not to build up expectations around the holidays. This is easier said than done, but it’s essential. When we put pressure on holidays to be “perfect,” it’s hard to live up to what we envision. What’s more, when reality doesn’t match expectations, we stress ourselves out.
It takes practice, but cultivate an open mind as to what your new holiday rituals can look like. If you can avoid some of the baggage of expectations, the holiday season will be more enjoyable.
New holiday traditions
With planning, your new holiday traditions can yield real quality time with your kids as you go through this change together.
Just don’t forget to agree on a schedule in advance with your co-parent, make your kids a priority, collaborate on new ideas, and set expectations aside as best you can. Then try to allow yourself to relax, celebrate with your kids, and enjoy the holiday.
If you have concerns about creating a co-parenting schedule during the holiday season as you navigate child custody or divorce, the family law attorneys at Jacobs Berger can answer your questions and guide you through the process.