The holidays can be a rough time for divorced families.  Traditions that were established for the family during the marriage inevitably change.  One parent may be without the children for a part or all of the holidays, and there may be less money to go around than there was when the family lived in one household.  But the last thing you want is for your children to have bad holiday memories to grow up with – memories of fighting, anxiety, stress, and guilt.  Believe me, bad holiday memories will stay with children into their adulthood.  I recently met a successful TV talk show anchor who told me he never had a happy Christmas until after he was married. His childhood was filled with horrible memories of divorced parents ruining Christmas by fighting every year over who would have the children, and then acting so poorly the children felt horribly guilty going to the other parent’s house.  He said he and his siblings actually had to split up once so each parent could have “some” of them. 

It is unimaginable that parents would want to put their children through this emotional turmoil.  Yet they do it all the time.  Usually adults have very fond childhood holiday memories of their own, which is why it becomes so important to them to recreate those memories with their own children.  Then WHY would a loving parent make the holidays torture for their children?  They wouldn’t.  Here are some holiday tips to make sure your own children have a great holiday season – even if it means you have to grow up and be the one who doesn’t get everything you want for Christmas.  Now are you going to be naughty or are you going to be nice this holiday season?

Holiday Time-Sharing

·       Naughty:  Make sure you let your child know how upset you are that they will be celebrating any part of the holiday without you. Examples of this naughty behavior are: "I will miss you so much on Christmas Eve - I am going to hate being all alone." Or, "You have to go to your dad's for part of Hanukkah so we won't get to be together." Or how about, "You won't get to go to Grandma's over the holidays and see your cousins because the Court ordered you to go to your mom's." These messages tell your child to feel guilty spending time apart from you.

·       Nice:  "You're such a lucky child, you're going to get to celebrate Christmas twice." Or, "Your mother and I have come up with a plan so that you can see both of us and have two holidays with two families that love you very much.  We're all going to have a lot of fun!"  If you don’t know what to do with yourself without your children, go volunteer somewhere.  It will help you feel blessed.

The Giving of Gifts

·       Naughty:  "Don't you dare bring gifts your mother has given you into my house and don't you dare take my gifts to her house." Or, "What a stupid thing for your dad's girlfriend to buy you." The message you are giving your child is that despite the fact you were once in love enough with the other parent to procreate, you now despise your former spouse so much that reminders of them are not allowed in your home, even if it means ruining your child's enjoyment of a well-intentioned gift. In this scenario, the motive is to make yourself (not your child) feel better by diminishing the gifts or other holiday observances of the other parent.

·       Nice: "How exciting your father gave you the X-Box that you've been wanting! I can't wait to see it so you can show me how it works." Or, how about, "Of course you can take your favorite new toy to your dad's home to show him. I bet he'll enjoy playing with it, too! Try to remember to bring it home so you can enjoy it here after the holidays."

We're Broke and it's His/Her Fault

·       Naughty:  Put a naughty twist on the holidays by telling your child that you pay so much in child support and/or spousal maintenance that you don't have any money to buy the gifts they want; or, conversely, tell your child that the other parent doesn't pay their support the way they're supposed to, so the holidays just won't be what they used to be. The message to your child is that the other parent is responsible for ruining your child's life (and yours) and implying that your child should be as angry as you are, and take sides. Better yet, ask your child to ask the other parent for the money they owe you. Tell them if they don't collect, there won't be anything under the tree.

·     Nice:  "Sometimes mommies and daddies aren't able to buy everything on your wish list, but we're going to have a wonderful holiday together." Or, if funds are tight, try being a real grownup and pool resources with your ex-spouse on that one gift your child really wants that neither of you can afford on your own. Don't fight about at whose home the toy will be presented. Maybe you can both give it to the child together at the holiday parenting exchange. Your child will appreciate the two of you acting like adults and they will get their special gift. You should also consult with your former spouse regarding which items on your child's wish list each of you will purchase so that your child's wish list is fulfilled with no duplication or one-upsmanship.

Navigating the holidays with your child’s best interest in mind may be tough when your own emotions are running high.  But do you really want your child to look back when they are an adult and blame you for making them miserable?

Take the “Nice” road, even if your ex will not.  That’s the gift a true parent gives their children during the holidays.

About the Author

Angie Hallier

Angie Hallier, J.D., is a family law specialist and the author of The Wiser Divorce: Positive Strategies for Your Next Best Life.

You are reading

Life After Divorce

Creating a Plan of Action

Make your vision real.

Self Discovery In Divorce

Clarifying your intentions