Divorce is never easy.  When there are children involved, things become even more complex. There can be a lot of heartbreak and confusion that comes from moving away from the single-family unit into two separate households. Splitting holidays can be emotionally draining for the children as well as the parents. In most cases, families will alternate holidays in order to minimize heartache. In some cases, divorced parents might still be able to spend holidays together with their children. Whether together or separated, most parents hope for holidays to remain picture-perfect for their young children as long as possible. Despite that, actually finding a way to make it work is easier said than done. How do you know if something is a viable holiday plan for you and your ex-spouse?

Should Divorced Parents Spend The Holidays Together?

Every separation and divorce is different. For some, the split may be fraught with bitterness and resentment; while for others the split may be relatively amicable. Regardless of the circumstances, holidays for divorced families can be emotionally draining.

The majority of divorced families have a set custody agreement in which the children will have a regular routine as to what days they spend with each parent. In most cases, such parenting plan agreements will also include special provisions as to how holidays and birthdays will be spent.  Many parents, would prefer not to miss out on a single holiday with their children.  Many children, also are saddened if they do not get to spend time with both parents on holidays.  Divorced parents often alternate who gets the children for the holiday that year.  While not ideal, this does take the pressure off of constantly battling over who gets the children during special days of the year and each parent gets to exercise their holiday without clashing with the other parent in front of the children.

Other families may choose to split time with the children during each holiday, which can be very effective if both parents live in the same city.  For example, one parent has the first half of the day and then the parents do an exchange in the early afternoon.  This often only works if exchanges are peaceful between the parents.  If exchanges are often a battle, it may be better not to have an exchange on the holiday and spoil the holiday.

Every once in a while, there are divorced parents that still get along so well together that they can share the holiday.  If you are considering sharing holidays, think about what this may look like in the future before you agree to it.  Maybe you and your ex are fine in the room together.  Once your ex starts dating again and wants to bring along their new significant other, you may no longer want to have shared holidays in your parenting plan.  For most families, alternating holidays or splitting the holiday works best.

Is It Right to Spend Holidays Together as Divorced Parents?

When it comes to enjoying joint holidays as divorced parents, there is no right answer. Children pick up on the tension between their parents.  You may make the children more uncomfortable by trying to celebrate the holiday together and then each starting your own new traditions.  If your divorce is still pending or you are newly divorced and you get along well, you may want to try celebrating the first handful of holidays jointly to help the children transition. This will also help create a sense of normalcy and prevent them from feeling that they have to choose a side in a fight that doesn’t involve them.  Again, this should only be attempted in those somewhat rare cases where the parents get along despite the divorce.

Of course, in most situations, a parent is not ready to spend time with their ex during or immediately following a divorce. In the event that the separation was bitter or there were other serious issues involved, spending time apart during the holidays is usually a healthier choice.

Sometimes there is a middle ground that can help the children transition without spending the holidays together.  For example, if you had a tradition of going to church or to a tree-lighting ceremony as a family, maybe the parents can make plans to both attend this one activity together to help the children ease into the new family structure.  This can be something as simple as going out to lunch as a family or even visiting Santa at the mall.

Holidays With Divorced Parents in Different Cities

Parents who move to different cities following a divorce may find the only workable option is to alternate holidays.  However, some parents may not be able to alternate every holiday without spending a large amount of money on travel or taking a lot of time off from work.  In these situations, usually, only the handful of holidays seen as most important to the parents are alternated with the custodial parent having the children for the holidays seen as more minor.

For parents that aren’t “home for the holidays,” keep in mind that there are many virtual options to spend time with your children even if you can’t be there in person.  Although not as good as being in person, having the child spend some Facetime or a Zoom session with the other parent can make the lack of being together just a little bit easier.

When you can’t be together on a holiday, don’t be afraid to make your own traditions or maybe even make up your own holidays.  Don’t get me wrong.  No matter how mature or “fair” you were in your divorce, that first Christmas morning when the children are at the other parent’s home is going to be very hard.  That being said, don’t be afraid to decorate and look forward to your After Christmas Bash with the children and then make plans to spend Christmas morning with another family, at church, or volunteering.

Remember you can still treat your children to a wondrous holiday season even if you can’t always do it jointly or on the day marked on the calendar.

When Spending Holidays Apart is a Better Option

Separating children from either parent during the holidays or other special events can be difficult for both the parents and the children. However, the reality is that most divorced parents just don’t get along well enough to have a joyous holiday together.  As much as the children might wish both parents were still together for the holiday, the children often know when their parents are faking it and the tension makes the holiday fun for no one when they try to celebrate it together.

For most children, your odds of having a joyous holiday are going to be highest if each parent does their own thing, even if the children may miss the other parent in the back of their minds.  For the vast majority of divorced parents, separate celebrations are going to be a smarter option.  If you try to celebrate the holidays together but it is really just a strong face, your children are likely going to know and will likely feel the tension as well.  Don’t try to fake it through the holidays.  Start new traditions that don’t involve the other parent and embrace and enjoy them for how things are now.

Share The Holidays or Celebrate Apart

Some divorced parents are amicable enough to spend time together during the holidays.  However, even for many otherwise amicable parents (and their children!), it isn’t going to be pleasant trying to spend the holidays together.

It is important to consider which options work best for you and your family instead of trying to follow a trend or hold onto a tradition that no longer fits your family. The main goal is to ensure that your children are loved, cared for, and are able to make positive memories each holiday season.

How to Avoid the Holiday Custody Battle

Check out the Visit Omaha website for holiday events in the Omaha area to start your new traditions.


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The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.