The first family Christmas after getting divorced is difficult, especially if your ex-spouse wants the kids on Christmas Day.
These suggestions for surviving a divorced family Christmas aren’t easy tips or secrets that will erase the pain for you or your kids, but they may help you get through the holidays.
The most important thing is to try to stay calm and balanced throughout the holidays. I know this sounds impossible when your heart is being ripped out, but you need to keep taking deep breaths. You want to support your kids – it’s their first Christmas after the divorce, and they may be confused and sad. You can’t support them if you’re angry, bitter, devastated, or unhappy because of your ex-spouse’s decisions or actions.
If you haven’t read any books about divorce and kids, take a look at Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce. You’ll see you’re not alone, and pick up valuable tips for helping your kids cope.
Surviving Your First Christmas After Divorce
The following tips are geared toward families newly divorced at Christmas, but they can ease tensions for families who have spent many divorced family Christmases together (or apart).
Accept your lack of control – after attempting to take control
My friend’s husband wants to take their kids to his place for Christmas instead of doing what they traditionally do (which is to spend Christmas at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s). It’s their first Christmas after the divorce, and the kids and other family members are devastated.
Where kids spend Christmas is a huge issue for families after divorce, especially for the first Christmas. Unfortunately, you may not have any control over where the kids spend Christmas Day. Some ex-spouses are open to letting the kids spend Christmas where they want, while others have tunnel vision. They want their kids at Christmas, and they can’t see beyond that.
If you have no control over where your kids spend their first Christmas after divorce, then you need to accept it. It’s painful and sad, but it’s better to accept what you can’t change.
Ask your kids what Christmas traditions they want to keep
What control can you give your kids? Maybe they want to keep the old family rituals, or maybe those traditions are too painful. Consider creating new Christmas family traditions. Listen to your kids; try to give them some choices about how to survive their first Christmas after divorce.
Consider spending Christmas somewhere else. If you have always spent it at your parents’ place but think it may be too painful this year, consider going to a close friend’s for Christmas. Diverting attention away from this divorced family Christmas idea may ease children’s anxieties.
Speak positively – or not at all – about your ex-spouse
This may be the best gift to give your kids: kindness, gentleness, and love. Remember the joys and good times of past Christmases; celebrate the positive characteristics of your ex-partner.
Don’t let your family members or friends criticize your ex in front of your children. No matter how badly your ex-spouse has behaved, it’s important to stay calm and neutral in front of your children. You’ll increase their unhappiness, pain, and stress if you’re negative and critical – or if your other family members are. It’s normal and healthy to be sad that you’re experiencing your first Christmas after divorce, but don’t let yourself be drawn to the dark side of insults or judgements – especially in front of your children.
Help your kids buy and wrap gifts for your ex-partner
Support your kids as they make or buy Christmas gifts for your ex, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. It may turn your stomach or break your heart to wrap presents for your ex, but your kids need to participate in “normal” Christmas activities – even after the divorce.
If you don’t know how you’ll survive Christmas, read how journal writing can help some people cope with divorce.
Give your kids gifts that make both households feel like home
Do your kids live with you part of the time, and your ex part of the time? Give them fun and practical gifts, such as funky comforters for their beds or two sets of scarves and mittens. Even if they have one set, they may want to have a second set at their other home.
Making both homes comfortable is important, both during the Christmas holidays and afterward, when everyone gets back to “real life.”
Stay as healthy as possible
Are you getting enough sleep? Exercising, eating healthy foods, spending quality time with friends and family? I know Christmas is stressful and busy, but that’s precisely why you need to stay as healthy as possible. It won’t seem possible to survive your first Christmas after getting divorced if you’re exhausted and worn out.
If you feel guilty about the divorce, read Dealing With Guilt After Breaking Up – 4 Steps to Freedom.
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.