Holidays and vacations after divorce are a minefield of schedules to be hammered out and difficult emotional and physical adjustments to be made…especially if you have children. Since our children are often in our top three issues of concern after a marital separation or breakup, we should try to celebrate the holidays after divorce in ways that are best for them.

Should divorced parents spend holidays together? How do we know if sharing holidays with our ex is best for our children and for us after divorce? What makes after-divorce celebrations successful or a total flop? Are family vacations after divorce good for us or for our kids, or not? Should I go on Holiday with my ex or not? Well, the answer to all of those questions is, it depends.

It’s normal to be afraid of spending Christmas or the holidays alone after divorce. Deep down we sometimes wish we could just have the kids with us and never have to send them to the ex’s house at all! But that’s not reality or usually for the best, so let’s talk about the benefits and drawbacks of sharing holidays with our ex.

Figuring out what to do about holidays and vacations after divorce sounds so neat and tidy. But many decisions about post divorce vacations and celebrations are fraught with freight trains full of intense and erratic emotions for everyone involved. Nothing is neat and tidy about the decision; and frankly, sometimes nothing is neat and tidy about the holiday celebration itself!

What you decide to do about the holidays depends mainly on how the divorce happened. Was it an amicable, mature, joint decision by you and your ex to go your separate ways like Gwyneth Paltrow and her ex who did their “Conscious Uncoupling” and are now, “better friends than ever!”? Probably not.

Was your divorce some combination of sobbing and screaming and lying and cheating and abandonment or alcoholism or abuse…or disrespect and lack of care for each other or out-and-out personal warfare on both sides? No matter how your divorce happened, it was probably some version of the kind of divorce with devastation and hurt and anger on one side or another.

Benefits Of Spending The Holidays With Your Ex

Okay, let’s rationally consider the benefits of co-celebrating the holidays and vacations like we hopefully have learned to successfully co-parent after divorce. The Winter holidays especially seem to usually include too much to do and not enough money to do it. Time is short. Days are dark and long. Family gatherings can be more of an exhausting endurance run than a Hallmark movie kind of fun, family frolic in the snow.

Doing It For The Kids

If you and your ex-spouse are friendly and past the struggles of dividing the stuff and selling the house and figuring out the alimony and child support, some divorced families can enjoy time together during the holidays. This is more often than not, more common when young children are involved.

Younger kids don’t really understand divorce…and they usually still have an attachment to both parents and don’t understand why you’re not together, especially for the holidays. I talked to someone recently whose young daughter asked her, “Mommy, why don’t you want to be with Daddy and Janelle (Not the other woman’s real name) on Christmas?”

Spending an hour or two opening gifts and having some holiday snacks can ease the transition to two separate families for our kids. Seeing that parents can enjoy each others’ company can be reassuring especially for younger children. It’s a personal sacrifice worth making if you can pull it off.

Reduced Conflict

One of the hardest decisions after divorce is “How are we going to do the holidays?” If each parent is adamant about being with the children on the “actual” day of the holiday vacation, the best solution is sometimes to agree to spending time together on that particular day. The rest of the school break time (usually a week or more) can be spent part-time at Mom’s and part-time at Dad’s.

Reduces Loneliness

Early after divorce, loneliness is one of the biggest issues single parents face. And to go from a bustling full household to having no one at home on a holiday can be a devastating reality. We all realize it’s just one day, but that one day is fraught with memories and sadness and hurt if suddenly your nuclear family has blasted apart and you are spending milestone celebrations alone. Deciding to spend at least a meal or a few hours together under the same roof can help ease that heartache of loneliness during the holidays after divorce.

Drawbacks Of Spending The Holidays With Your Ex

We wonder, “Should I go on a trip with my ex?” Not everyone can pull off a joint celebration or trip with an ex. And frankly, some kids don’t really want that either. There is too much hurt and anger on one side or another to make sharing holidays with an ex or taking trips with an ex something that especially older children would embrace. Especially if infidelity or alcohol or drug or other abuse is involved. 

Unpleasant Feelings

Because of the nature of some divorces and family arrangements after divorce, trying to concoct a “happy family” scenario out of a very hurtful divorce is almost impossible. In my own situation, while we were still separated, and I was still hoping for reconciliation, we tried to do one more Christmas as a family. I endured it. (My ex got me exercise equipment…his girlfriend was skinny and blonde!) One of my children later said it was “a disaster!” Too much hurt had happened and wounds were still fresh and ongoing.

Increased Conflict

Often, after contentious divorces, the anger is still boiling underneath the “happy” smiles we force on our faces. There are little digs and references to things that caused the divorce in the first place. I was still furious and sad about the girlfriend and the fact that things like Christmas would never be the same for anyone in our family. After divorce holiday celebrations would not have worked for me personally.

Kids Think You Might Get Back Together

Another worry is that celebrating the holidays together after divorce can cause younger children to think that you might be getting back together. I think it can be confusing and build up a false hope that things might go back to the way things were before the divorce happened. A clean break is often easiest on the children in the long run.

Meeting Your Ex’s New Partner

For me, personally, I would have never agreed to celebrating anything with the girlfriend…or “girlFIEND,” as I call any woman who gets involved with a married man! A joint celebration with the Other Woman would have been misery for me. (Even though my ex told me once I would really like her if I got to know her. “She is very spiritual,” he said. It’s also intimidating to meet your ex-husband’s new girlfriend, especially during the holidays.

Even after being divorced for a long time, spending holidays with the new wife is often difficult, too. Maybe I’m immature, but I’m being truthful. For me, there was just too much baggage and lingering disappointment that our marriage didn’t work, no matter who the new woman was.

How to Handle The Holidays

Double Holidays

One of the things that makes most of us upset about our divorce is that EVERYTHING gets complicated…especially the holidays and trips. The holidays can be wonderful, but they can also be stressful when you’re trying to see everyone you care about in one short period of time. When your children get married, they have to fit in time with the in-laws too, and it just gets to be too much.

Being flexible is a huge gift we can give our children, even if it means we don’t get to see them when we want to and as much as we would like. Remember, it’s just one day; and again, we don’t want the holidays after divorce to be something our kids dread whether we decide to spend time with our ex or not.

Alternate Holidays

What seems to be best for most divorced families is that the parenting plan specifies an alternating holiday schedule after divorce. One gets to have the children (even that phrase “gets to have the children” hurts most divorcing hearts) during one holiday and the other parent gets the next holiday. And then the next year they switch. Or if both parents live close enough, the kids spend one half of the holiday, (say, end of school to Christmas eve and the other parent has Christmas morning until school resumes usually on January 2nd.)

Alternate Years

Some parents choose the plan where holidays are shared by alternating the whole holiday every other year. That reduces the feeling of never really getting a full break because kids have to switch houses or cities or whatever halfway through the holiday.

However you decide to spend the holidays after divorce, try to remember that what we’re celebrating is more important and enduring than the specific days and hours we spend with the people we love. Be flexible. Be generous. Love your children more than you want your way. Take a look at our “How to Survive the Holidays While You’re Surviving Divorce” article. Remember, too, that what happens the other days of the year are more important than any specific holiday whether you decide to spend that holiday with your ex or not!