Happy divorced holidays

You get Christmas Eve, I get Christmas day, and then we can swap the 16th for Family day, ok?

They went to your parents two years in a row, now my mom and her partner want them to come up to Joburg for a holiday this time.

My leave was used up when they had chickenpox in March. It’s your turn to look after them.

What a tense time it can be. Negotiated revolutions take place every year. In families with two (or more!) sets of grandparents, newly divorced parents or new partners, it’s difficult to reach consensus on how to make the most of the holiday season.

Many families take an annual vacation during the long school holidays in December. If you’re working parents, this time can be intimidating. How do you keep these active children busy for several weeks? For some, it’s the most extended period of time that they’ll have to spend getting to know their own children, so it’s worthwhile planning ahead.

For divorced parents, and parents who have new partners, the challenge can be who gets to spend which time, where, and with whom. It’s not always easy to do this without disappointing extended family, but, again, if you plan in advance, there won’t be the sudden panic on the day.

Many divorces even make provision for particular holidays as part of the agreement. The saying ‘you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family’ is often remembered at this time of year. So many personalities and histories can cause stress during what should be a season of celebration and relaxation.

Divorced family tips for the holiday season

Here are a few useful tips to help you prepare for the holiday season and manage potential arguments:

  • Put disagreements on hold - call a seasonal truce!
  • Try and be sensitive to your ex’s family needs. Sometimes one day carries more tradition or religious significance than another, and they’ll value that time more than another day.
  • If you are recently divorced, this may be the time of year when your children feel the separation most, so try not to argue about ‘who gets them’ in front of them - they may still be processing the divorce, and feeling anxiety over loyalties to their parents.
  • Consult each other about gifts so that you don’t compete or get the same thing. Collaborating on gift purchases saves money, too.
  • Consider helping your child to make or choose a present for your ex so that they can share in the holiday spirit.
  • If you book holiday accommodation or flights earlier in the year, check with your ex first that the dates are mutually agreeable.
  • Make sure your employers understand that as a divorced parent, you may have to take on more responsibilities during holiday season.
  • Negotiate leave times and/or costs of caregivers.
It’s not pretending that you’re a big happy family again, but you can make some fantastic memories, even with complex family dynamics and unresolved challenges.

How do you and your ex negotiate the holidays?
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