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Ten Tips for Dads celebrating birthdays and holidays after Divorce

Author GreatDad Writers
Submitted 23-05-2007

Dealing with holidays after divorce is yet another minefield for dads.
Holidays and birthdays are extra reminders that the family is no longer as it once was, and can be especially difficult during the first years after a separation. However, like much about divorce and its aftermath, if you work at it, you can create new traditions and rituals that will make that time enjoyable again.

Because these times are so special, some divorced families find themselves thrown together again every holiday, if only because it’s more practical than ferrying the kids all over town. Often, it’s one big happy family with new spouses and children. However, don’t be surprised if this doesn’t happen right away, no matter how logical it seems. Time may be required to patch over differences and hard feelings and you also might find it easier to be away.

1. Plan Ahead.
With all the hoopla of the holidays, it won’t be easy, but you really have to plan, now that you’re trying to manage your family’s time from afar. Plan way in advance so that your ex-wife doesn’t feel under pressure. You’ll get far more if you plan early, try not to be pushy, and be extra communicative during this time.

2. Use the holidays as an extra reminder that “if you don’t have anything nice to say…”
The holidays, a birthday event, or even a family wedding, are not the times to dredge up bad feelings or statements of ill will, even if you’re being goaded into responding. Make a game of it and either walk away or just smile, but don’t get in a tangle, no matter how tempting. Try to make positive statements about your ex and keep the conversation away from curious questions about their “other celebration.” Don’t forget to also remind and help them shop for your ex-wife and her family.

3. Keep your promises.
Around holidays, be extra careful to follow up on the plans you make with your kids.

4. Be flexible in your planning.
Try to head off difficulties by being ready to change plans due to changes by your spouse or just in the situation. The best thing you can do is be extra-sensitive to the season or birthday and try to be ready for changes. 

You may find yourself having to give in to letting your kids spend “your time” with you ex-wife, for example.

5. Allow your kids to have two birthday or two holidays.
There’s nothing wrong with doubling up on the celebrations. Just ensure that you communicate well in advance and that you involve everyone in the planning. Re-creating the traditions and rituals and choosing your own, reinforces the idea that the children now have two strong homes.

6. Involve the kids when you plan.
Whenever it’s reasonable, let your children help make the choices about when and where to celebrate the holidays, and with whom. But before asking their opinions, make it clear that all plans must be cleared with everybody involved. This will help teach your kids to be part of the collaboration between you and your ex.

7. Don’t spoil your kids during the holidays.
Don’t feel guilty and over-indulge your kids to “make up” for the divorce, or worse, to buy their affections during the holiday. Despite the pain of divorce and flaring emotions, your kids will always be your kids. And, likewise, you need to always act like their father despite the change in situation.

8. Make the best of your new family during the holidays.
If you remarry or enter a long term relationship with someone who has children of her own, make sure to discuss how you will incorporate your children’s traditions with hers. Involve kids from both families to make sure you understand what is important and that no one feels left out.
Since birthdays and holidays are so important to kids and adults, you’ll have to be extra flexible to incorporate everyone’s feelings.

If you remarry or get into a committed relationship and your new partner has children, they will undoubtedly have their own ideas about how to celebrate holidays and birthdays. Discuss with your new partner ways that you can bring together the children from both sides of the family, and get all the kids involved with planning what you’ll do together and incorporating everyone’s traditions.
Birthdays and holidays are special times for you and your kids. Communicate clearly and stay calm and flexible, and your extended family will have something to celebrate.

9. Don’t forget to take off yourself if you end up spending some of the holiday alone.
Holidays are difficult for many people because they trigger memories of better times or of hard times. That’s why you should make special plans. And, if you are going to have free time, arrange to be with supportive friends or family. 

10. Create new traditions for your new family.
Don’t’ duplicate the exact rituals that you had with your ex-wife. Instead, create new traditions that involve the kids and are representative of your new family. It’s not time to throw the baby out with the bath water, but you’ll be much happier with your own ideas than trying to re-create the past in a new situation.

As you will notice in many of our Ten Tips, planning and communication are key to enjoyable holidays.  Experts strongly recommend  crafting a parenting agreement with your ex-wife . This agreement should cover where the kids will spend holidays and birthdays. If you can’t agree on these issues, you will be forced to argue over the same points at every holiday. And, you’ll inevitably stir up expectations and disappointments with your kids. An always-renegotiable “parenting agreement” can go a long way toward heading off many of these disagreements.

Paul Banas
Founder / Editor