Celebrating Holidays with Divorced Parents: Minimizing Guilt and Grief

The holiday season, a time of joy and togetherness, can be a source of stress and confusion for children post-divorce. Navigating a calendar of “split” celebrations can trigger feelings of guilt and grief for kids and parents alike.

But children with divorced families deserve to enjoy the holidays, too. So, what can you do to minimize the tough feelings that inevitably come up?

Whether you’re a parent or a child, the holidays can become a delicate balancing act. The season requires careful planning, clear communication, and lots of empathy. 

Holiday options for families of divorce

The family dynamic has changed, but you don’t want it to dampen the holiday spirit.

Whether your children are minors or adults, there are ways to organize your celebrations to minimize the guilt and maximize the joy.

Options for parents of minor children

Alternating holidays

Parents take turns celebrating holidays with their children. For instance, one parent may have the kids for Thanksgiving Day, and the other has them for Christmas Day. This arrangement allows each parent uninterrupted time with their children during a significant holiday.

Splitting the holiday

If parents live close to each other and maintain a cordial relationship, splitting a holiday could work. For example, the kids could spend the morning with one parent and the evening with the other. This way, they can participate in festive traditions with both parents on the same day.

Celebrating together

For families who can manage it, celebrating the holiday together as a family provides a sense of continuity for the children. This option requires a high level of cooperation and communication between the parents.

Creating new traditions

Parents can also create new traditions. This could involve celebrating the holiday on a different day or in a different way. When done well, it could give the kids unique experiences with each parent.

Read: 7 Fun Post-Divorce Traditions to Begin with Your Kids This Year

Options for adult children of divorced parents

Adult children of divorced parents often have more complex schedules due to work, studies, or their own families. Here are some potential options.

Flexible scheduling

Instead of sticking to the exact holiday dates, parents and adult children can choose to celebrate on days that work best for everyone. This approach respects everyone's commitments and reduces pressure.

Hosting joint celebrations

Adult children might find it easier to host the holiday celebration themselves. Both parents can attend without the need to negotiate whose house to visit. For this to work, however, open communication and understanding are crucial.

Individual celebrations

Adult children can have separate celebrations with each parent. This could involve different activities that cater to each parent's interests, creating personalized and meaningful experiences.

Virtual celebrations

For families who live far apart, virtual celebrations can be a great way to connect. Schedule a video call to share a virtual holiday meal, open gifts, or simply catch up.

How do you split lengthy holiday breaks?

Dividing multi-day holidays or school breaks, if not done thoughtfully, can lead to increased stress for everyone. But with strategic planning and open communication, it's possible to create a fair and balanced schedule that prioritizes well-being.

Alternating schedule: A common approach is to alternate the holiday break each year. For instance, if Parent A has the children for the entire Thanksgiving break in one year, Parent B would have them the following year. 

Splitting the break: Another option is to divide the holiday break equally. For example, during a two-week Christmas break, the first week (including Christmas Day) could be spent with one parent, and the second week (including New Year’s Eve and day) could be spent with the other. Note: If you do this, it’s crucial to establish clear transition times to avoid confusion and conflict.

Fixed holidays: Some families assign fixed holidays to each parent. Let’s say one parent has a strong family tradition around a specific holiday. They could have the children for that holiday every year. The other parent could then have the children for another holiday or part of the school break.

If one parent plans to travel with the children during the break, this needs to be communicated and planned in advance. Last-minute travel plans can cause tension and disrupt the agreed-upon schedule.

While these strategies can help, it's important to remember that there's no one-size-fits-all solution. The best arrangement for you depends on your family's unique circumstances and the children's ages, interests, and needs. It's vital to remain flexible and willing to adjust plans as needed.

Traditions: Maintain, change, or find new ways to celebrate?

Some families find comfort in maintaining existing traditions. They provide a sense of continuity and familiarity. For instance, if decorating the Christmas tree together was an annual event, continuing this tradition might provide reassurance and stability.

On the other hand, sticking to old traditions might evoke painful memories. If so, it may help to change the way you celebrate. This could mean tweaking existing traditions or starting entirely new ones. If your family used to bake cookies on Christmas Eve, perhaps you could now make pancakes on Christmas morning instead.

Creating new traditions can also be a therapeutic process. It allows parents and children to redefine what the holidays mean to them in their new family setup. This could be anything from a movie night on Thanksgiving Eve to a special Christmas breakfast.

The key is to communicate openly with your kids. Understand their feelings about old traditions, and involve them in the process of creating new family traditions. Remember, the goal is to make holidays a time of joy and celebration despite the changes in your family structure.

Tips for helping the kids cope

Children often bear the emotional brunt of a divorce, especially during holidays. It's common for kids to feel grief at the loss of their intact family or guilt about spending time with only one parent or the other.

Here are some ways children can cope with these emotions.

  • Encourage kids to express their feelings openly and honestly. Assure them that it's okay to feel upset, confused, or angry. These feelings are normal. You love them regardless of the specific day or the number of hours they spend with you on any given holiday.
  • Reiterate that the divorce was not their fault. When trying to make sense of a family upheaval, kids often gravitate toward guilty feelings. Do your best to free them of those feelings. Make sure they understand that both parents love them unconditionally and always will.
  • Get the kids professional counseling. It can help children cope to see an understanding therapist who provides strategies for managing tough feelings of grief and guilt in a healthy way.

Tips for parents

Divorced parents often face emotional challenges during the holidays. Here are some strategies to help manage those feelings.

  • Prioritize your mental and physical health. Exercise regularly, maintain a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and engage in activities you enjoy.
  • Surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Don't hesitate to share your feelings with them. You're not alone.
  • If feelings of grief, jealousy, or loneliness overwhelm you, get help. Therapists can provide coping mechanisms and help you navigate this challenging period.
  • Concentrate on making the holidays enjoyable for your children. Seeing them happy can bring you joy and provide a sense of purpose.

We understand that the holidays can be a tough time for families affected by divorce. We’ve worked with countless people in your position, and we want you to know you’re not alone. And at Hello Divorce, we know there’s a silver lining: When you live your best life, you are happier.

Your children absorb your positivity and learn how to find happiness for themselves. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible, and with concentrated effort and hope, your next chapter can be your best one yet.

Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.