Handling divorce at Christmas with the kids

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Christmas and holidays are common sources of conflict when making custody arrangements. Which parent gets to spend the actual day with their child? Does the child have to go through two Christmases? Your first Christmas post-divorce will be difficult but we have some advice to help you get through.


Suzanne Jannese from Babble explains in her article about the numerous ‘traumatic’ Christmases she had to endure. Her parents divorced when she was small and constantly felt torn between two families. During her early teens, she:

  • Worried about not having enough pocket money to buy presents for everyone
  • Ate two Christmas lunches and felt sick for the sake of ‘keeping the peace’
  • Ran to a neighbour’s house on Christmas Eve just to escape from the stress
  • Cried at home alone one Christmas Day because her mother, despite fighting for custody that day, went to another celebration meant ‘only for adults’.


Suzanne pleads for parents to put their kids and their needs first. Children are sensitive to the emotions of the people around them and try their best to fix it. A child’s job is to have fun, to play, and to just be.


Dr Robert Emery, PhD, advises parents that sometimes it’s better not to be friends post-divorce. Sometimes it works and couples reconcile (though this is rare). But when the relationship is beyond salvaging and there’s lingering bitterness, he recommends the following: treat your ex as a business partner. You’re bound together by the child you have, and there’s still a job to do. Dr Emery further explains how to handle the holidays in his blog on Psychology Today:

  • Remember that Christmas isn’t about you or one-upping your ex through the gifts you give. Explain the values that come with Christmas to your kids (thankfulness, forgiveness etc)
  • Make new traditions with your kids. If they don’t spend the actual day with you, create your own brand of Christmas that year.
  • Don’t avoid your ex-partner. Communicate and schedule visiting times, and even presents. This way you both know your child’s movements and you don’t double up on gifts.



Divorce and the whole process will hit the kids hard, writes, Christina McGhee. Ultimately, it’s up to the parents to explain the situation as best they can, and what’s going to happen next. Christina urges parents to be transparent about how the upcoming Christmas will be different to those in the past. She also recommends these steps to keep sanity, perspective and emotions in order:

  • Let the children’s needs be the backbone of planning your Christmas
  • Explain that different doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Rather, it’s a chance to start new traditions with each parent.
  • Make sure you care for yourself, whether it’s for an hour or a day. Your emotions are going through the wringer and the children are going to pick up on it if you don’t stay calm.