Many families have a number of traditions and routines for birthdays, major holidays and summer vacations. After divorce, a number of those family traditions are reduced or even eliminated altogether, from traveling to seeing in-laws over winter holidays to summer camping trips. When there are children involved, maintaining some sense of holiday tradition will help them feel secure after their parents are divorced.
While in the midst of negotiating a divorce or dissolving a marriage in court, often parents are too busy and overwhelmed to also examine and hammer out the details of how children’s birthday celebrations, major holidays and other life events will play out going forward.
It makes sense for parents to sit down with their children early on and discuss what they consider significant family traditions. Children and parents can map out ways in which to maintain the spirit of those traditions with the understanding that, while the event won’t be exactly the same, it can still feel “right” to the child. While it’s probable that both parents won’t sit together at a performance or event, the child can be assured that both parents will be in attendance.
You may have a number of preconceived ideas about what your child finds important, depending on his or her age, but be prepared to learn a few things. It might not be that decorating the table together on Thanksgiving has special meaning for your child, but instead, he or she might feel it’s the way the house smells, the sense of anticipation and the bustle of extended family that “makes” the holiday. Also know that what he or she considers special will most likely change over time. The discussion with your child can and should be as specific as possible to reduce disappointment later on. And of course, you have a number of event-specific arrangements to work out with your ex-partner, beyond your general custody agreement, including:
- School breaks. Who takes them, when and for how long? Will that include traveling? What is the plan for any birthdays or holidays that fall during the break? What is the plan for any events involving extended family that may fall, planned or unexpectedly, during the break?
- Birthdays. How will they be celebrated, with whom and where?
- Holidays. Which holidays will be spent with which parent? How will extended family members be included?
Some of your family’s former traditions simply will not be able to continue, due to time, budget, stress and other constraints, but there are creative solutions. Take the time to work out event custody between you and your ex-partner, find out what is important for your child and look forward to adding new traditions where you can.