The weather outside just dropped from an incredibly comfortable fall cool to a damp and nasty chill in about two hours, and shows no signs of going back. You know what that means. It must be holiday season. Soon stores will be lined with red and green, and friends will argue bitterly whether Christmas music is permissible between Halloween and Thanksgiving. For so many of us, especially those with large extended families close by, the holidays carry many traditions, expectations, and norms. I remember as an eight year old being horrified that we were no longer doing Thanksgiving at my grandma’s, not at all appreciating the impossible logistics of stuffing our growing family into my grandmother’s less than 2,000 square-foot house. A couple years later when my parents divorced, lots of other things changed. This article will outline some of my experiences, observations, and retrospect on how ending a marriage affects the holidays.
The Great Schism
The initial split of a marriage with children can be hugely daunting, and the first couple years are usually the most stress-ridden for both parents and child(ren). Many married households do the same thing every year for certain holidays, and after a divorce, keeping that up is frequently impossible or unfair. Every child is different, but in my experience, children are pretty flexible when it comes to holiday traditions when both parents actively endorse the change. Children value a lack of conflict between their divorced parents (which can create incredible stress and even longer-term developmental and behavioral problems) far more than their holiday traditions. The key is usually the two parents sitting down and hashing out how all holidays will work in one sitting. It is very un-lawyerly of me to say this, but holidays are one thing that clients usually figure out better than their attorneys. No one knows your family better than you.
Sources of Conflict
Even when divorced parents have maturely hashed out a sensible and reasonable holiday schedule, problems can arise at actual implementation. Conflict often arises when one parent has a significantly larger contingent of extended family living close than the other. This was the case with my family, and that meant when my parents were together, we far more often spent holidays with my mother’s family. However I was lucky in that my parents made it work. My mother didn’t insist I spend every Thanksgiving with my cousins or make fun of the year my dad and I did a private Thanksgiving one year with a chicken rather than a turkey (it was a really big chicken), or the year we went to Furr’s Cafeteria. At the same time if a year fell that my mother’s family did something particularly big, or someone I hadn’t seen in forever was in town, they moved things around. The key to holidays, and really everything when it comes to parenting children with divorced parents, is the parents working together.
Keep in Mind, Every Family is Different
Divorces are by nature unpleasant affairs, and their aftermaths are never perfect. Your ex may not be as sensible as my parents were, and it may force holidays to be strictly governed by your separation agreement or shared parenting plan. This author knows coordinating holidays after the end of a marriage is far harder than this article may have made it seem, but hopefully it provided a little knowledge and perspective.