Family Therapy: Holidays After Divorce

Carl Grody
Carl Grody

I remember the first Thanksgiving after my divorce. The kids were with their mom, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I ended up watching football in an unfamiliar bar, eating frozen pizza delivered through a “window” in the wall. That’s just part of divorce. Holidays are exciting when you have the kids; they can be dreary when you don’t.

In a perfect world, children see both sides of the family on holidays. They need both parents, after all, and they often experience angst when someone gets left out. But again, that’s part of being divorced, and children adapt quickly when we give them the chance. So how can you make holidays a tad easier for everyone?

  • First, keep the kids out of the middle. (I know you’ve heard this before.) Don’t have them ask the other parent if they can see you. That makes them feel more torn between parents than they already do.
  • Include specifics about holidays in your parenting agreement. Don’t just say, “Let’s split time on Thanksgiving. You take them in the morning, and I’ll get them later in the day.” That leads to chaos when you show up at noon and your ex is just putting the turkey on the table. Be specific so there’s no confusion.
  • Be flexible. There are times when it makes more sense for children to be with one parent than the other. For example, if an out-of-town grandparent is here for the first time all year, it’s good for the kids to spend time with them. But if one parent sacrifices time, the other parent needs to make similar sacrifices.
  • Sometimes divorced parents can’t agree on anything. In these cases, you can use the plan laid out by the courts (in Franklin County, it’s called Local Domestic Court Rule 27). The children won’t see both parents on every holiday, but it eliminates any arguing about the schedule. There’s also an advantage to knowing what’s happening well in advance. Want to know who has the kids on Christmas in 2024? It’s in there.
  • Let the kids call the parent who isn’t there. They’ll be happier and will feel less guilt about not seeing mom or dad. And who knows—you might feel better, too.
  • On holidays without the kids, do something you like to do. Hang out with other relatives or friends. Take a trip. Play a round of golf or see a movie. (But avoid rundown bars with frozen pizza.)
  • Finally, when the kids are grown, it’s tempting to lobby for extra time at your ex’s expense. Don’t. Regardless of age, kids don’t want to be in the middle. It’s better to arrange the schedule so they still see everyone. That might mean having meals on different days or lunch at one house and dinner at the other. Either way, don’t make kids choose between parents; they’ll feel torn and frustrated no matter how old they are.

Carl Grody is a licensed independent social worker who works with families at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington.