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How do divorced families split up the holidays?

By October 13, 2008 - 12:14pm
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The upcoming holiday season will be the first since my divorce. My kids have asked repeatedly what our plans are for Thanksgiving and Christmas, however my ex-husband and I haven't yet taken the time to figure it out. (Plus we're probably trying to avoid the inevitable as long as we can.) Since he lives less than a mile away, I'm guessing that one option would be for the kids to spend part of Thanksgiving at my house and then the other part at his house, for two dinners. An aunt of mine who has been married three times advised me to split the holidays up. For example, I'll have them for Thanksgiving and he'll have them for Christmas. That way, it leaves flexibility if we ever want to travel for a holiday.

I have no idea which way is best. Does anyone have any advice on how to do the holidays, and for making it as stress-free for the kids as possible?

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Those are great ideas, Alison! I really appreciate the support. I'll probably try to do something out of the ordinary, which could be another good break from tradition.

December 11, 2008 - 3:48pm

I'm so happy to hear that Thanksgiving went well for you! I think it works well to split up the holidays, so you are not as confined to specific times/deadlines (ie, Christmas Eve at dads and Christmas Day at moms would mean no Tuscon or other 3-day road trips).

As far as how you'll spend Christmas when your kiddos are at dad's, here is a wonderful article on "Great Tips to Celebrate Christmas Away From Home [or without the kids]": http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1099120/great_tips_to_celebrate_christmas_day.html?page=1&cat=16
1. Surround yourself with friends
2. Spend Christmas doing something nice for someone else
3. Treat yourself to something nice for Christmas
4. Go somewhere unusual for Christmas

Other ideas:
5. Renew old friendships (surprise some friends with an old fashioned handwritten letter!)
6. Indulge in a favorite past-time that you are too busy to do otherwise
7. Renew your faith. Churches have fun social gatherings, too!
8. Enjoy the silence; this is often the greatest gift a mom can have!

Happy Holidays!

December 11, 2008 - 3:33pm
EmpowHER Guest

Kristin, Most divorced couples I know 'split the day' with one taking the kids in the morning and the other in the evening. This seems to work out well. In fact, one little girl I know actually likes the idea of having Christmas twice.

But I may have to agree with your aunt on this one. Alternating holidays may be the way to go, and as you've proven with your trip to Tucson, it gives you the opportunity to buck tradition a bit and create your own family traditions.

And although you may miss the excitement of Christmas morning, I bet you'll forge new traditions here as well. Any ideas on how you'll spend your time. Sometimes, my favorite way of spending the holidays is ... very quietly.

December 11, 2008 - 12:10pm

Thanks so much for your input! Thanksgiving actually turned out to be wonderful. My ex-husband and I decided that I'd have them for Thanksgiving and he'd have them for Christmas. Since for as long as I can remember, I've always cooked up the big turkey dinner, I wanted to do something totally different this year -- kind of like a clean break/new beginning. So I took my kids down to Tucson for three days and we stayed at a beautiful bed and breakfast and spent the days doing fun stuff, like exploring Colossal Cave and the Sonoran Desert Museum. We had so much fun together. And, to top it off, the owners of the bed and breakfast cooked up an enormous Thanksgiving dinner. So we had a fantastic turkey dinner and I never had to lift a finger. Kind of a nice break from tradition.

I'm a little sad about Christmas, especially about missing out on Christmas morning, which is always so much fun. But, I'm sure I'll get through it.

December 11, 2008 - 11:25am
EmpowHER Guest

I've had to deal with the divorce situation and figuring out who gets the kids on which holiday for the last 15 years. I agree with your aunt split the holidays and rotate them out each year. So if you had them for Thanksgiving this year then he has them for Christmas. Next year he gets them for Thanksgiving and you get them for Christmas - same goes for any other major holiday. This way you start a pattern for the kids and they don't have the stress about where they will be for each holiday. It's worked for us and I hope it works out for you as well.

December 11, 2008 - 11:04am


I am very close to two families who do this slightly differently, mostly because of distance.

I think that each of them would encourage you to start your new traditions this year, realizing as you go in that the holidays will not be completely peaceful, especially this first year. The best you can hope for is that you and your ex-husband can get along and present a united front as far as what the new routine will be, and that it can be good.

One family I know does the either-or thing; the kids get Thanksgiving with one parent and Christmas with the other, and then they switch the following year. The downside is, of course, that the kids miss seeing one parent entirely on each holiday; the upside, however, has been a more gradual blending of family traditions as their parents have both remarried now. This family has long distances to travel, so sharing the holiday isn't possible.

The other family I know shares each holiday like this: One gets Thanksgiving dinner (earlier in the day), the other gets Thanksgiving dessert and evening. And one gets Christmas Eve, the other gets Christmas Day. And the following year, it switches. This family has actually done a fairly remarkable job of redefining the holidays in their own way, in my opinion; the children know what to expect and, while there is always some sadness when they transfer from one parent to the other, it now seems "normal" for all involved. I would say it's taken them 3 or 4 years to figure out what works best for them.

Realize that this is just the first year of holidays in what will be an evolving process. Involve the kids, but you and your ex must be able to agree on and make the decisions that seems the best for everyone involved.

Here's an article about divorce, stress, children and the holidays:


And here's one about starting new traditions:


And if your children are very young, this might help:


Come back and let us know what you've decided -- lots and lots of us deal with these seemingly small issues in daily life that get so large when the holidays are involved.

October 14, 2008 - 8:50am
EmpowHER Guest

Thanks for your thoughts, Susan!

Well, the kids have been vocal about the fact that they want the holidays to be just like they've been in the past -- where we're all together and in my house (which was the family home). I guess I could do that, but honestly, the thought of my ex-husband and I sitting across the dining room table from each other, and having this picture perfect turkey dinner on Thanksgiving like we have in the past just seems really uncomfortable and gives me a stomach ache just thinking about it. Same with sharing Christmas morning. I mean, at some point this wouldn't be an option anyway, like if one of us remarries or something.

So I think I'm trying to figure out a new, different tradition that we can continue in the future. I just feel really overwhelmed by it.

October 13, 2008 - 1:10pm
HERWriter Guide

Hi Kristin

I don't know anything about your situation but I'm wondering if it's possible for you and your ex-husband to get together in the 'family home' (the place that the kids generally call home, if you have that) and not split things up at all?

I know that sounds a bit idealistic and neither you or your ex may want to spend holidays together but it would allow you both to spend all holidays with the children!

Other than that I'd go with what your aunt suggested - perhaps every other holiday, you have the kids and every other birthday etc. Have you asked the kids what they would like? Your idea about spending part of the day with each parent could work too - say they have Christmas breakfast with you and Christmas dinner with their Dad. I think that would all depend on what the children prefer, they may not like shuttling back and forth on one day, but since he lives so close by - they may not have a problem with it!

Good luck with working it out - I have a couple of divorced friends who also go through this and they usually do the 'every other' system.

October 13, 2008 - 12:45pm
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