I have been divorced for almost a year. Prior to finalizing our divorce, we spent one holiday season newly separated and another we were negotiating and signing divorce documents. With our final agreement dated December 23rd, this year will be our first as true ex-spouses, but it is our third navigating holidays with a new custody agreement, two homes, and family. Here are some tips on how to celebrate holidays after divorce.
How to Celebrate Holidays After Divorce
I believe that divorce doesn’t end a family. The day after Phil and I shared with our three sons that we were separating, I nailed a canvas on the family photo wall that had three simple words “family is forever.” I also left every picture of us as a family up. I figured I would add to the photos and that new memories would be made, but those that we already made as a family would hold a special place in my children’s heart. I believe they deserve to see them celebrated on our wall.
I am not naïve and under the impression that families cannot be strained or broken apart. Clearly, I know this. Sadly, I am estranged from my own parents. It is my experience with loss of family that informs my decisions about my kids. Anyone who has experienced the loss or strain of their own parental relationship knows how important your child’s relationship with their parents is.
When it comes to my kid’s dad, he isn’t my husband anymore, but he is very much their father and a member of my family. With this approach to our post-divorce life, Phil and I have managed to keep our family largely intact. He shares his parents, siblings, and nieces with me. I share my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces with him. We recognized when we divorced that we were part of something bigger. Not just our own children’s lives, but this larger network of family. We both cherish our collective family.
When we were planning out our custody arrangement and had to figure out what to do with Christmas and Thanksgiving my heart was aching so intensely. I feared my chest may spontaneously burst. The stakes were too high. How could we decide to basically take turns with our kids? Our kids don’t have two families, they have one.
The Ghost in the Room
During my separation, my therapist warned that there will always be a ghost in the room for my children. What she meant was that children of divorce always sense the missing parent. When a ten-year-old wakes up on Christmas morning to open presents and his dad and stepmom are there to watch his joy, he will notice his mother’s joy is missing. When a fourteen-year-old cracks a series of funny jokes at the family Thanksgiving table and the mother is the only parent there, she will find herself wishing her dad had experienced her humor as well. The ghost in the room concept has informed a lot of what I do as a divorced mother. One of those things is how we do holidays.
Plan Gifts Together
Shortly after Halloween, Phil and I will pow-wow over the phone or quietly when exchanging kids and talk about what we want to get the kids. We talk about what they might need, what ideas we have for what they want. We plan it out and divvy it up. There is no rule that says we can’t buy something that wasn’t on the list or can’t buy something extra. The intent isn’t to control what we get them or prevent a parental power play for the best gift giver. The intent is for our children to experience that when it comes to them, their parents still make united decisions. Phil makes decisions about his own life without my perspective. I make decisions about my own life without his. When it comes to our kids, however, we remain united.
We Share the Day
Phil comes over before the kids wake up Christmas morning and we share the whole day.
A failed marriage is not synonymous with wanting to miss your child’s face on Christmas morning. Just because our marriage didn’t survive doesn’t mean that one of us is deserving of missing big moments with our kids. We share our love of our children. Since Phil and I experience a very peaceful and friendly post-divorce relationship, I cannot see any reason to separate holidays. My kids want both their parents present. They’ve already lost so much, why take this away too?
Both Phil and I have dated others but neither of us have found a new partner. When we do, I expect that those new people will be welcomed into our family celebrations. I don’t expect that we will divide our shared holidays once there are new significant others. This concept can sound wild to many people, but I am not motivated by what is traditional or legalistic. I am motivated by what kind of love, forgiveness, and commitment to family I am modeling for my kids. The ghost in the room is on my mind.
Family is Forever
Divorce doesn’t end a relationship, it changes it.
It can be hard to celebrate holidays after divorce. Phil and I agreed that our guide for parenting going forward is this: just because we aren’t teaching our children about marital love doesn’t mean we aren’t teaching them about love. The kiddos are always paying attention.