Holidays are a time for family, friends and spending time together, but this can be very complicated if you’re divorced and are trying to figure out how to make it a great holiday for your kids. And if it’s your first Christmas after a divorce, there will definitely be challenges.
I still remember my first Christmas after my divorce. I struggled to keep our family routines as close to “normal” as possible, especially for my then-toddler. And honestly, it was very tough - dealing with my own emotions while trying to make the season special for my kids.
So, if you’re going through this, I feel for you right now. It will get better (I know, it doesn’t feel like it, but it will). I do think that with some planning you and your co-parent can create a happy Christmas for your kids, and hopefully these five tips will help.
1. Make Plans in Advance
As the holidays get closer, emotions can get more intense as we often become stressed about the busyness of the holiday season. If this is your first Christmas after a divorce you may be feeling anxious about how you’re going to create a special day for your kids.
That’s why it’s best to talk to your co-parent as early as possible about how the kids will spend the holidays. Discussing it early gives you both a chance to share your ideas and allows time for questions and negotiations. Always keep in mind that the goal is to make it a happy and memorable holiday for the kids.
2. Consider What the Kids Want
Depending on the age of your kids, they will have different questions about how this Christmas is going to go. Young children may be scared that Santa won’t know where to deliver their presents this year. Make sure to give them time to ask their questions and reassure them so they know what to expect.
You may also enjoy sharing the book, Hope’s Broken Snow Globe, about a little girl named Hope who is experiencing her first Christmas after her parents’ divorce. Books can be a great way to introduce topics you want to discuss with your kids.
Older kids may have a preference as to where they spend Christmas or Christmas Eve. It’s important to listen to their suggestions and openly discuss the options. Working together to find a solution can lessen any uncertainty or sadness they may be feeling. And it’s important to remember that change and creating new traditions can be fun and add meaning to the holiday season.
If your kids usually see their extended family for the holidays try to make sure these visits continue. Spending time with other family members can help reassure children during a time where a lot of other things in their lives may be changing, and it also helps them create long-lasting bonds with family.
3. Share Time Together for a Tradition
Sharing time with the kids and your ex-spouse is not something every divorced couple can do, but I have seen co-parents come together for a few hours when the kids are opening presents, or even for a meal or tree decorating. It doesn’t have to be for the whole day but just a few hours so both parents can share this special time with the kids.
For this to work, parents need to put aside their differences, agree not to discuss their divorce or any other difficult topics. Also it’s important to agree on the schedule ahead of time so parents don’t feel pressured by the kids to stay together longer. One possibility is to agree to watch the kids open presents together from 8AM-11AM on Christmas morning.
4. Stick to the Agreement & Don’t Overbuy
Once you and your co-parent have agreed to a plan, stick to the schedule so that everyone is clear on what’s happening. This way the kids can be prepared and you can prepare yourself to talk positively about the new things that are happening this year. Things may not go exactly as planned, but if everyone tries their best to stick to the plan, disappointment will be minimized.
I’ve seen many co-parents go overboard with buying presents, especially that first Christmas after a divorce. I know it’s tough but try to keep in mind that kids prefer spending time with their parents - those are the things they remember, not how many gifts they received from each parent.
5. Be Realistic & Flexible
Remember that no Christmas is perfect. Even when you were married, there were probably things that didn’t go according to plan. After a divorce, Christmas can still be magical for the kids, and your family can still enjoy some of its favorite traditions and create new ones too. It will be different - but different doesn’t equal bad.
And even with a plan in place, it’s important to be flexible. Someone may get sick, a sink may get clogged, a car may break down...life happens. Try to keep a positive outlook for yourself and your kids.
And if this year doesn’t turn out exactly like you wanted, you can always make changes for next Christmas. Co-parenting isn’t easy, especially at Christmas, and especially if this is the first Christmas you’ve had to figure out new ways to do things.
The holidays won’t be the same as they were when you were married, but it still can be a happy time for everyone. Implementing all or some of these five tips can help to create a memorable and joyous holiday season!