The holidays are a time for family gatherings, following and creating family traditions, and connecting with the family. What happens when your family doesn’t look like what you see on Hallmark cards? What happens when you are forced to have a divided holiday? This guide is meant to share tips, ideas and resources for blended, separated, and divorced families.
One of the best advice someone ever gave me when I was going through my divorce was “Divorce does not mean children have to suffer, however the way the adults handle themselves afterwards can.” I have held on to that small bit of advice for the last 4 years and think of it with every decision I make. You see, I am a strong believer that I can provide my children with a strong family foundation, despite being the products of divorced parents. One way I try to ensure that is through our holiday traditions and family time.
How are Holidays Different for Blended Families and Divorced Parents?
1. Time... Whether the parents are divorced, separated or remarried, time is definitely affected. Children are no longer creating memories of Christmas morning under one roof with their mom and dad. I have met a few (very rare) parents that actutally continue to share Christmas and holidays together even after the divorce, but even this looks different than before. More often than not, children have to share time between houses, sometimes not even seeing one parent.
In our home, the children are with each parent for 2 weeks during the holidays and Thanksgiving rotates each year. This means that this Christmas Eve my 2 boys will be in another state, celebrating with another family, while we are home with their sister.
2. Traditions… Often times, since children in a divorced family have to bounce back and forth each year or even day to day during the holidays, traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation might be a little trickier to carry on. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, it just means families have to be a bit creative. For example, in our home we LOVE our advent calendar and our Elf Activities. However, this year the boys will leave our home 2 weeks before Christmas, meaning we have to alter our calendar and plans to reflect the time we will spend together.
3. Values… This one can be tricky. I mean, as we all know, values can vary even in “traditional” family structures. However what I am talking about here is that instead of Mom and Dad’s way of doing things, children are not expected to muddle through different ideas and values in each home. For instance, we work extremely hard to keep the focus off of “things” around the holidays and throughout the year, yet their father loves to shower them with gifts because he hasn’t seen them in some time. The same could be said for Santa vs. No Santa, Christmas mass vs. staying home, elf vs. no elf, the list goes on.
So what can you do to help ease this transition during the holidays? What can you do to ensure that the holidays are enjoyable and memorable for both you and your children? I have asked some of my closest friends in blended and divorced families for advice as well as my Facebook community. I hope you can find some great advice and tips and I would love to hear from you about your tips and ideas as well!
Tips for Children in Blended and Divorced Families During the Holidays
Use technology. “For our daughter that is out of state we utilize skype. We hook it up to the TV and all unwrap presents together.” ~ Stephanie, Parenting Chaos
Split the time evenly. “My oldest two go to their dad’s the day after Christmas. I always want them to celebrate the actual holiday at home with their little brother (my youngest), and their dad thankfully agrees.” ~ Krissy, B-Inspired Mama
Share the holiday. “For my daughter who lives with us, her dad just moved back to the state we are in we suck it up and do it together (as tense as that can be). We choose a neutral location to do the celebration/meal at and then will do the big celebrations such as Santa/presents at home with just those that live with us.” ~ Stephanie, Parenting Chaos
Embrace traditions from each family. “We celebrate two holidays: Christmas and Hanukkah. It has become something fun to look forward to! The girls love having both! It has not always been easy to balance it all out, but something fun no matter what.” ~ Cassie, 3 Dinosaurs
Make family memories. “Pick one or two special things that the family CAN do together: watch a holiday movie and make a homemade pizza, decorate something together, or take a drive to view the light displays. It doesn’t cost much to spend quality time together – kids will remember those times more than gifts that are received. “ ~ Darla, Preschool Toolbox
Surround them with extended family. “For traditions, my mom always let me pick something out for my dad and if he couldn’t be there, he always sent something to me or called. Having other family around is Huge! My Christmas’s were always a very happy time because of all the family that I was surrounded by. It wasn’t ideal, but it was special nonetheless.” ~ Janine, True Aim Education
Tips for Parents in Blended and Divorced Families During the Holidays
“Negotiate and compromise. Choose traditions that are important to you to maintain and make sure that they happen. They key now is to make the day flexible. While you might not be able to celebrate with your kids on the actual holiday date they will love the family togetherness and traditions whenever they occur.” ~ Kerrie, Family Food and Travel
“Be flexible and patient. Working together as a divorce family can be one of the best presents you could give your child!” ~ Laura, Holiday Do’s and Don’ts
Work together and communicate. “Celebrating holidays in blended families can be challenging not only for parents, but for the kids, too. I always remind parents to try to work together as much as possible to alleviate any additional stress placed on the children.” ~Darla, Preschool Toolbox
Avoid confrontation. “I think it is important for parents to get along and avoid confrontations, never putting down the other parent, but reassuring the child that dad/mom loves them; making a point to incorporate any fun things that dad/mom did with them if the child wants.” ~ Janine, True Aim Education
Enjoy the moment. Take the time that you have with your children to enjoy every moment. Even though it might be hard, try to focus on the time you DO have with them instead of the time you DON’T. This will put you in a happier mood and enable you to share that joy with your children.
Distractions can be helpful. Being away from your children during the holidays can be hard. There is no way around this. However, sometimes taking a much needed vacation while the children are at the other house, or planning a fun get together might be just what you need to enjoy the holidays. This will help you feel refreshed when the children do return to you, ready to celebrate.
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