7 Ways to Create New Holiday Traditions for Your Family Post-Divorce

By: Terry Gaspard
Last Update: October 30, 2017

Creating new holiday memories can help divorced families deal effectively with the ups and downs of the holiday season.  Remember to keep the focus on what’s most important: sustaining a positive relationship with your children. Keeping conflict low in your home and creating new traditions will allow your kids to preserve positive memories in the years to come.

The holiday season can be a challenge for newly divorced family members. The holidays can trigger strong emotions, including feelings of sadness or loneliness – especially if you compare yourself to others and believe you fall short because you don’t feel cheerful or gregarious.

Holidays Post-Divorce: Let Go of Old Traditions That No Longer Fit Your Family

Let’s face it, it’s a not easy for parents to let go of grudges and bad memories of past holidays. But you can give your children the gift of hope by setting up new traditions which will ease the stress during the holiday season and bring them happiness. For instance, Ryan is a single dad who likes to cook, so he began a tradition of baking homemade bread with his two kids and delivering it to a soup kitchen sponsored by their church. This has become an important holiday ritual for Ryan and his children.

It’s also wise to be flexible and understanding as you negotiate schedules; your children may feel torn between their parents’ two disparate worlds. Show compassion for your kids if they seem stressed or worried. Remind them that it’s normal to feel more stress this time of year and you’ll help them to navigate through rocky patches any way you can.

Children's Fears about Holidays Post-Divorce

Most children of divorce experience loyalty conflicts during the holidays and this can last into adulthood. The holiday season can remind them that their family is now divided and they may feel they are pulled in every direction and will ultimately disappoint both of their parents. As a result, you need to do everything in your power not to intensify your children’s feelings of being stuck in the middle between their parents’ two worlds during the holidays.

Children may worry they won’t have fun celebrating during the holidays after their parents' divorce because they've endured so many changes. Consequently, they can benefit from new traditions and activities to replace the ones they enjoyed in the past. Young children may be particularly vulnerable during the holiday season post-divorce because they crave and thrive with predictability and routine – which go out the window this time of year.

Create New Holiday Memories

What can you do to create new, positive holiday memories? The first step is an awareness that you have to create a new kind of family and that you'll grow stronger if you practice forgiveness. Holding onto angry feelings toward your former spouse can make you bitter. Remember that your goal is to create new, positive holiday memories for your children that will endure the test of time.

Next, show compassion toward your children and their other parent – clearly this time of year can be a challenge for them too. Modeling responsible behavior toward your former spouse is key to having a successful holiday. Children pick up on both verbal and non-verbal signs of anger, so do your best to keep these feelings in check. Never bad mouth your ex and model respectful communication in front of your children. Studies show that children adjust better to divorce if their parents minimize conflict and are cooperative with each other.

Author Gary Direnfeld, MSW writes, “While you may not love your former partner be careful about poisoning your child with anger or disdain towards their other parent.” He cautions us that kids form an impression of themselves as a reflection of their parents and consider themselves as being half mommy and half daddy. As a result, showing anger toward their other parent can contribute to your child’s low self-esteem and difficulty coping with their stressors.

 7 Ways to Create New Positive Holiday Memories Post-Divorce:

  1. Adopt a positive mindset and attitude about the holidays. Remember that spending time with your kids doing enjoyable activities is the best part of a busy season.
  2. Plan ahead but allow for flexibility. Have a secure schedule in place for your children but give them options. Asking your kids for feedback about how they want to spend their time will encourage them to become invested in holiday activities.
  3. Be cordial with your ex-spouse during holidays post-divorce. Don’t express anger towards your children’s other parent in front of them. Being businesslike and civil with your ex and his/her relatives can set a positive tone for the years to come. Consider communicating with your ex through email because phone conversations and texts can get emotional during the holiday season.
  4. Be sensitive to your children’s feelings and triggers. Remember that your children are not possessions and that they have their own tender feelings to deal with during the holiday season. Do your best not to put them in the middle by making them a messenger between their parents or asking them too many questions about their time with their other parent.
  5. Validate your children’s feelings if they express sadness or other negative emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to feel this way and you are there for them. Don’t make them feel guilty about their time away from you – they don’t need to know if you feel lonely without them. Saying things like: “It’s not going to be the same as when we all lived together, but we can still carve out some enjoyable time” can validate their feelings and help them cope.
  6. Begin new holiday traditions that will create positive memories for you and your children. For instance, visit friends, attend a play or concert, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or enjoy a special meal prepared by all of you. Hold onto traditions and activities from the past that worked for you and your kids.
  7. Remember to laugh and relax with your children. Laughter is one of the best ways to change a negative mood to a positive one. Take time out of every day to de-stress by doing things that you all enjoy – listen to music, work on a puzzle, or participate in other fun activities.

Creating new holiday memories is well worth the effort and keeps the holiday spirit alive. Over time, you and your children can build new traditions and memories that will nourish everyone. For example, contributing to a giving tree at school or a community agency can help instill a sense of empathy and hope in your children after divorce.

The holiday season doesn’t have to be a time of stress overload for divorced family members if you keep the spotlight on your children’s well-being. Don’t forget to hug your kids and remember to focus on what’s most important – sustaining a positive relationship with your children.

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