What’s challenging all year long gets lit up in bright, twinkly lights this season of each year after divorce.

How do we get our kids through well and still enjoy the season?

 

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s the hap-happiest season of all!”

 

The songs really do make it sound so magical, don’t they?

 

All the sights and sounds and smells of the holiday season have made me giddy for as long as I can remember. I don’t even mind when it’s still October and the Christmas trees come out at Home Depot and Walmart because I am just so excited that Christmas gets to come again. In fact, Halloween was literally one week ago and I let myself have a little sneak peek of Christmas music already today with no shame!

As a kid, I made Christmas wish lists weeks in advance, circled every item I liked from my grandma’s Caster Knott department store magazine, and hoped for Santa the whole month long.

I probably cried at some point almost every single Christmas growing up.

No, not the bratty too-much-sugar-before-9-am cry or the didn’t-get-what-I-asked-for cry. I cried the cry of a divorced family kid each and every year.

So yeah, sure, it is the most wonderful time of the year. I still believe that (obviously, since my Christmas playlist is on).

The reality is that it also can be the hardest and most painful time for a lot of people too. I don’t have to look very hard to see how true that is for children of divorce. I have a hundred memories to remind me of that.

What I understand much better now as a parent myself is how it can be an incredibly difficult and painful time of year for parents who have been divorced too. Kids don’t love the divided time at the holidays a lot, but neither do their parents like being without their kids!

It’s tricky all year long, but on the most celebratory days, the separation and pain is right there all the more, seeming to shine as bright as the lights on the tree.

Your children will likely not know to care that this time of year is hard on you, nor should they. It is our job as parents to see and notice them and their needs, not their job to see and take care of ours.

However, I want to say this to each of you as parents: I see you and notice your pain this year. You don’t love your kids being away from you on Christmas morning or evening. You didn’t plan to be a single parent this year. You wish you had more money for gifts than your single income allows.

It’s hard. I know. I want you to know we see that and know that and care about you too. We will continue to focus on your kids and how to help them through this time, yes, but we want you to know that we care about you too. We hope you find community and family and support to carry you through the holidays if they feel extra tender this year.

As you carry your children through, you need people carrying you through too. It will directly bless them and be one of the sweetest gifts you can offer them this season.

If it is your first year of holidays as a divorced family, offer yourself, your co-parent, your families, and your children a ton of grace. There needs to be a huge learning curve for everyone this year.

Remember – there is no perfect way to do this and someone will handle something in a way you consider wrong. And that is okay! Allot space in your heart for that. The grace you offer yourself and others will be as contagious as the flu this season. I hope every member of your family catches it and spreads it with their Christmas cheer! (The grace, not the flu!)

The reality for your kids is that they may do great and may not. That is okay too! They may seem totally resilient and may not. As long as they have you on their team, present and noticing them, they are going to be okay. I really believe that.

So, whether there are tears on a few Christmas sweaters or scowls in a few Christmas photos or not, we want to help you prepare your hearts and homes for the season either way.

The following list contains several ideas and suggestions for making this holiday season the best it can be, getting your kids through well and still enjoying the season instead of getting Christmas wrapped in anger and twinkly lights all season long.

1. Acknowledge their feelings about the season.

Maybe your kids are feeling a little sad because mom or dad isn’t there to put up the tree or watch their favorite holiday movie. Don’t just sweep that under the rug. Try to hear them and understand this big change may be challenging for them.

 

2. Create new traditions.

Bring your parental A-game! Maybe your kids would love a Christmas music dance party or would love to visit a holiday craft fest. Summon your extra energy reserves and put some fun into making this season exciting for them. They will appreciate the effort, even if it isn’t immediate, I promise.

3. Continue your old traditions with a twist too.

Just because one element has changed does not mean everything has to. Children thrive on consistency and need to know that some things will always stay the same. (This could require a little help from #4 below!)

4. Get creative!

When I was a kid, our holidays required us to alternate whether we were at Mom’s or Dad’s on Christmas day. In order to ease this transition for us, our parents came up with the brilliant idea of writing Santa a letter on wrapping paper to ask if Santa would come on a specific day, early or late, so that all of the stepsiblings could have our Christmas morning together. Santa always wrote us back in this “scripty” font, and I remember being SO excited. It didn’t even matter a little that it wasn’t technically on Christmas day. Parental creativity goes a long way at the holidays!

5. Money may be tighter this year.

THAT IS OKAY. It does not require thousands of dollars to make this season still fun and exciting for your kids. There are tons of holiday functions in every town that are free. Often times, that quality time is even better than the gifts anyway. And with a little planning and thoughtfulness, a tight budget can allow for some sweet little gifts as well that your child will always cherish.

6. Take care of plans and expectations and frustrations as best you can ahead of time.

Maybe you are afraid it will put people out to be asking weeks ahead of times for plans, but maybe your kids would feel better knowing what’s coming. That trade is worth it!

7. Check your grudges at the door.

I know – your ex-wife’s sister may have given you dirty looks for years and you can’t stand it. Or maybe your ex-husband’s mother has driven you crazy for a hundred holidays. Do your kids still love these people and their gatherings? Then there is certainly no need for them to know your issues with your old in-laws!

8. Relax and enjoy the season yourself.

Look through the eyes of the children you love at the tree and the lights and the songs and the gifts. Your relaxed and joyful presence with them is an irreplaceable, priceless gift.  

9. Talk about what has changed and what hasn’t ahead of time.

Are mom and dad still doing Christmas with them together and everyone sleeping in the same house? Probably not, but has the amount of love for them changed? Not at all! They need to be reminded of that, especially at the holidays.

What about if they aren’t doing well though? What if they don’t want to go to their mom’s or their grandparents’ without you? All the more reason to plan ahead of time! Particularly with their other parent.

Maybe they could have a code word they tell the parent they are with when they get overwhelmed and get to take a break. Maybe they need to call dad or call mom when they are away or take something special with them in their pocket to be reminded of you. I don’t know what it is for your kids and their hearts, but having a plan helps for sure!

The biggest part of the plan – it needs to be implemented by the parents WITHOUT judgment. It might initially drive you crazy that your child needs to call the other parent when they are with you every once in a while over the holidays. They don’t have to know you feel that way. They just need to feel safe and loved. And that is a gift you CAN offer them.

 

Foster and encourage spaces for them to talk about their real feelings along the way. It is normal for them to feel sad if their family isn’t together for Christmas. It makes sense if they miss one parent or the other. There is no shame in that and they need you to tell them that and be with them in that sadness or fear or anger or grief.

With a heaping scoop of love for each other and your children next to your mashed potatoes and a song of grace on repeat in your head with Jingle Bells, you and your co-parent can get both yourselves and your children through these holidays with all kinds of happy memories, even on the hardest year.

Happy holiday planning to each of you and merry every day to your beautiful children as well!

April Moseley

April Moseley

April is a Marriage and Family Therapist with a background in youth and campus ministry. She’s an avid reader, an occasional baker, and a lover of words and people. She enjoys continuously learning and sharing on emotional health, spiritual growth, and safe places to land. April lives in Nashville with her husband Josh and their son Jude.
April Moseley

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