Family Life


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Surviving the holidays as a divorced parent

Surviving The Holidays As A Divorced Parent - Parents Canada

Making holiday arrangements is hard enough when dealing with extended family schedules and expectations, but if you’re a divorced parent, navigating the holidays is a whole other level of emotional chaos. The holidays are a magical time and neither parent wants to miss out on any part of it.

My ex and I separated just before Christmas two years ago. Not being present for every holiday festivity was a hard pill to swallow. I wouldn’t get to see the look on my kids’ faces when my ex-father-in-law donned his Santa suit and ho-ho-ho’d into the living room on Christmas Eve.

Splitting holiday time is emotionally gut wrenching, but creating special memories during the holiday season is still possible even when separated.

Determine Holiday Schedules in Advance

Whether you end up splitting the holidays or alternating years, someone is going to be spending some time alone at Christmas. Consider each other’s family traditions when making plans.

My ex’s family had always celebrated on Christmas Eve while my family held our Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. We decided to stick to the regular routine. The kids would spend Christmas Eve with their dad’s family and Christmas Day with mine.

Whatever your arrangement, talk about the schedule in advance in every detail. What time will the kids be picked up or dropped off? Make sure expectations are clear so no one feels blindsided the day of.

Communicate the Plan to the Kids

If this is the first year you are spending Christmas apart, be sure to set your kids’ expectations. They may feel guilty or sad about not being with you, or confused as to why you aren’t all going to Grandma’s together like you used to. Give them time to feel comfortable about the new holiday plan.

Re-Examine Holiday Traditions 

Traditions are an important part of everyone’s holidays. If you’re newly separated, you may need to alter some of your previous family traditions. I have always presented the kids with a new pair of pyjamas and a book on Christmas Eve. But with their father now dropping them off half-asleep at 10pm, the expectation is that they would likely already be in their pyjamas and my youngest at least would be transferred immediately from car to bed. Instead of keeping them awake and giving them their new pyjamas and Christmas book on Christmas Eve, I decided to give it to them on December 1st. This way they can spend all of December feeling festive.

Start New Traditions 

My son spontaneously asked for an elf this year. While I might have previously denied the request, this year I welcomed it. I thought why not bring some more Christmas magic into our new home and start a tradition that is just ours. Starting over means you have an opportunity to create new memories and traditions. Perhaps this is the year you invite your kids to bake the cookies you have always made alone at Christmas.

Talk About the Gifts

With the kids now having two Christmases, there’s always that possibility of parents getting the same gift if you don’t communicate. Or of one parent grabbing everything on your kids’ wish list, leaving the other parent in the lurch.

Once I decided what I was going to purchase for the kids, I sent my ex the gift selections to ensure that we didn’t both get them the same thing.

Try to avoid over compensating by showering your child with more gifts or by trying to give the “best gift”. If there’s a big ticket item on your child’s wish list (such as a bike or a game system), consider having that gift come from the neutral Santa, or giving it to your child together.

Gift Giving to your Ex

While you may not be gifting anything to your ex, your child may want to get a present for their other parent. Helping them pick out a gift not only teaches them a valuable lesson about giving, but goes a long way to demonstrating goodwill towards the other parent.

Don’t Forget About Yourself 

While you’re busy arranging the kids’ holiday schedules, don’t forget to make a plan for yourself, too. Self-care is important during a seperation, but even more so during the holidays. If this is the first time you’re without your kids on Christmas Eve, you may also be missing the traditions you held with your ex’s family when you were together. Be sure to plan something to distract yourself and to do something you enjoy. Perhaps it’s curling up with your favourite holiday movie or getting together with a friend.

Originally published in November 2022. 

a man carrying two children

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