How to handle the holidays with your family after being recently separated?

For recently separated families, the holiday season adds an extra layer of complexity on top of the existing challenges of navigating a separation. If this is your first holiday season post-separation, be prepared for the emotions, but do not despair. The following practical tips can help make the holidays less difficult for you and your family.

First and Foremost, Take a Child-Centered Approach

Children are just as affected as their parents, if not more, by separation. Family leaves a life-long impact on everyone, so naturally, an event as significant as a separation, and how it is handled by the parents, will have immediate and long-term effects on the children.

At times, parents can become too engrossed in their own experience, and forget to reflect on whether they are causing undue stress for their children. Children should never feel like they are caught between their parents or responsible for their parents’ feelings.  

Manage Expectations

Conflicts often arise when people’s expectations do not align with reality or the expectations of others. Therefore, preparing yourself, your children, the other parent, and even extended family and friends for what to expect can be an effective way to curb conflict and disappointments.

One way to manage expectations is to leave yourself and the other parent ample time to discuss and decide on the holiday schedule. Having this discussion reasonably in advance of the holidays can allow you and the other parent to think more objectively, without the emotions that come with the holiday season and the feeling of having to rush to a decision.

Parents should check in with each other about the holiday schedule before creating any expectations for the children. The schedule should outline the time that the parents will be spending with the children, whether together or separately with the other parent, and the other relevant details, such as the time, place, and method of meeting. Last minute disagreements about the details of the holiday schedule are a common challenge that parents face, so it is important to work them out in advance, as much as possible.

Be Honest With Yourself

Part of setting realistic expectations is being honest about how you are feeling. Acknowledge your feelings, reflect on the inner roots of your outward emotions and actions, and know that it will take time to heal from the hurt and grief of the separation.

Moreover, be honest about the level of tension or comfort that you and the other parent feel about co-parenting. When parents can be honest with themselves about their own feelings, and honest with each other about the level of tension that exists between them, they are better able to make realistic plans that they can stick to.

Sometimes, parents may feel obligated to do all the family holiday traditions together with the other parent. However, there is no right or wrong way of approaching the holidays; there is only what works best for the family, with the children’s best interest as the paramount consideration. Forcing things can cause more stress for all parties involved.

Be Flexible

Even the most perfectly curated schedules may not go as planned. Bad weather can delay or cancel events, or someone’s actions may render the original plan no longer viable. When plans change, focus not on who to blame but on the children’s needs. Be a flexible and creative problem-solver so that the children can still enjoy their day.

Keep in mind that holiday traditions before and after separation are going to look different. Parents should consider what they are comfortable with so as to avoid stressful situations for the children, but they should also consider what their children are familiar with so that they are eased into the post-separation changes.

As the family moves forward from the separation, the parents’ lives will become more independent and, therefore, they may do fewer or no holiday activities together. The holidays, however, may not be the best time to introduce a new partner to the other parent or to the children, as this can add uncertainty to an already stressful time.

Final Comments

Managing family members’ expectations, being honest with oneself, and being flexible with changes are some practical ways to make the transition to celebrating the holidays post-separation a little easier.

Connect Family Law would like to support you however we can. We are experienced with the different aspects of separation and we collaborate with parenting coaches and child specialists, who can be helpful in cases where parents may benefit from receiving professional guidance with respect to how to parent in their children’s best interest.

If you have any questions regarding your separation or divorce, feel free to contact us. We are here to help.  

About Charlene Tsai

(she/her)
Lawyer – Vancouver

Charlene is passionate about supporting people through the rough patches of their lives. As a child, she wondered whether her family is more dysfunctional than others. When she grew older, her calm and compassionate personality allowed her to be a confidant to many family and friends. Through their stories, she realized that family issues are common and have pervasive consequences in people’s lives. Having witnessed many troubled families and grown up in one, Charlene is sensitive to the issues that arise between spouses and understands the delicate position of the children involved.