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Navigating The Holidays

“Sometimes you’re going to have to let one person go a thousand different times, a thousand different ways, and there’s nothing pathetic or abnormal about that. You are human.”

Heidi Priebe

One of the times you may most acutely feel the effects of a divorce is during holidays and special events. The traditions and routines of your holidays will be different in light of your separation or divorce, which can intensify your feelings of loss and emphasize the change in your circumstances. Being apart from your children or adjusting to being single during the holidays can be emotionally wrenching.

The good news is that even if your life may not be what you want it to be right now, you do have choices about how you spend your holidays. With good planning and a positive attitude, you can embrace the season and your holidays can still be filled with joy.


“Strangely, my ex and I decided to spend Christmas together. Neither of us could bear the first Christmas being away from our children, so even though we were in the middle of our divorce we decided to still spend Christmas together during that first difficult year. Going forward, we will take turns with Christmas Day. We put this solidly into our court-approved co-parenting plan. But for us, we realized we preferred to spend the day together with our kids that first year while we were divorcing, even though it was really hard for us. I know a lot of divorced friends who never could have done it this way. But since our divorce was relatively amicable, this solution worked well for our family in the first year. There isn’t one ‘right or wrong way’ to do the holidays as a divorced family. I think each family needs to figure out what works best for them.”


Plan ahead

It’s important to set yourself up for success by proactively making a holiday plan well in advance. Don’t wait until the week before the festivities begin to discuss with your ex who gets the kids when, or to decide where and with whom you will spend the holidays. Be flexible and willing to compromise. For example, you may not get to be with your kids on the actual day of the holiday, but you can plan a fun family event the day before or after. If your kids are old enough, allow them to provide their input as well. Coordinate specific details with your ex about presents and events and how exchanges will take place. Not only will this save you unnecessary frustration, but it will also make your children feel more secure during this important time. And don’t forget to include your extended family in your communications, if needed. 

Being alone vs lonely

If you will be alone during a holiday, reach out to family and friends or plan ways to avoid feelings of loneliness. Use a call or video chat to connect with long-distance family or plan activities that you enjoy that you may not usually get to enjoy. Give yourself the gift of freedom. Avail’s founder, Nate Zorich, created a new tradition of hiking to the top of Horsetooth mountain with his rescue dog, Rigsby, on Christmas mornings when he didn’t have his kids. Now, many years after his divorce, this has become a nourishing and joyful Christmas Day tradition.

Take a new look at gift-giving

Consider changing up your approach to gift-giving this year. If your divorce has put a dent in your finances, get creative. Write a card from the heart, give a family heirloom, or help out at your church’s celebrations, or volunteer with a charity. Serving those less fortunate than you will shift your focus from yourself to others. One of the best presents you can give your children this season may be an attitude of goodwill towards your ex. If your divorce has been contentious, implement a ceasefire, even if it’s only for the season.

There is no perfect holiday

It’s easy to focus on how the holidays “should” be or compare this year to pre-divorce holidays. However, we tend to selectively remember the “perfect” memories. By conveniently overlooking the not-so-perfect times, this mindset creates expectations that are destined to be disappointed. Yes, you may be grieving the loss of how things used to be, but longing for the past will not help you during this holiday season.

Here’s to new traditions

Holidays are built on nostalgia and tradition, which is why they can be especially difficult during or after a divorce. Look at this as a fresh start, a chance to make the holiday exactly as you’d like it to be or to start new traditions. There’s no rule that says you have to do things the same way they’ve always been done. In the past you may have formed your holiday plans and traditions around the needs or expectations of others. Perhaps you felt pressured to spend too much money, wore yourself out from traveling between the in-laws, or struggled with toxic family members. This is your opportunity to overhaul your holidays and celebrate the way you like. Adopt traditions that you admire from others or look to your cultural background for new traditions.

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