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Starting New Holiday Traditions After a Divorce

How to create new traditions with a new family dynamic.

Holidays can be especially tricky to navigate for newly divorced couples. It takes time to settle into the new normal—for you, your ex, and your children. The holidays can be an excellent time for setting new traditions that work for the shift in your family situation.

Parents must still parent

The important thing to remember is that children need to have their needs met; they need to be nurtured and comforted. Spend time with them and remind them that you will always be there for them, no matter what. They need to feel a sense of security from both parents.

Consequently, when planning for the holidays after a divorce, parents must rise and step into their adult mode. It is crucial that the newly divorced learn to overcome negative feelings about their ex and the challenges of being divorced and be positive and present when with their children. Though your marriage may have failed to survive, your new family structure can still prosper if you take a mature, responsible role in making the best of your new situation.

New family dynamics equal new traditions

Sometimes families reorganize in a way that includes stepparents and stepsiblings. Here are some ways to start creating new holiday traditions after a divorce:

  1. You and your (new) spouse (if you have one) should set aside time to discuss a plan with your ex (and new spouse) without anyone else present. Decide on a neutral meeting space, such as a restaurant (not one of your homes) and take turns noting which existing holiday traditions are important to each of you, as well as any ongoing traditions in a stepfamilies to consider. This is where you must remember to place your children’s happiness above your own heated emotions and find solutions that will work for you, your ex, and your children.
  2. Invite children to participate in a process of creating new family rules and holiday experiences. Allow your children to give input into the plans you and your ex discussed. Give them several options you have already thought through; if personally invested, they will be more likely to adapt comfortably to such new traditions. Your children may have acquired new parents and new siblings, about which no one asked them their opinions or gave them a choice. Allowing your children to have a say in new holiday traditions can lead the way toward healthy reconstruction of the family unit.
  3. Plan on one-on-one time with each child during the holidays. If you have more than one child, it is important to remember that each child will react differently to the disruption of divorce. Younger children may regress into old patterns, such as wetting the bed, while older children may act out in anger or retreat in silence. The holidays are an excellent time to reconnect on an individual basis. Plan a library and lunch date with a child who loves to read, or an ice skating and hot cocoa date with your oldest child. If the one-on-one connection times prove to be a success, you can easily repeat the experiences each year, establishing a special tradition with each of your children.
  4. Hand down an important holiday task to your child. Divorce can sometimes make children feel out of control and insignificant. Handing over an important annual holiday task that has traditionally been handled by you or your ex, such as carviing the Thanksgiving turkey or hanging the top star on the tree, can help a child feel important. It is also a way to show your child that you trust them with such a valuable task and a way to mark the transition from old to new.
  5. Expand your circle during the holidays. After a divorce, children especially can feel isolated and alone. Now is a great time to reach out to friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors and invite them to your holiday gatherings to help your children see how many people do care about them. Although you and your ex may no longer be in love, you—and your circle of trusted friends and family—still care very much for your children. This is also a tradition that can help you navigate through the tricky holidays after a divorce.
More from Gail Gross Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed.
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