How does our family celebrate holidays, now that we’re separated?  What about birthdays and other special days?

This is a common question when I first meet with parents who are newly separated and looking for guidance. They may be worried and sad about losing family traditions and about not having their children with them for every holiday, and they may be frightened about having to face the pain of their losses. They may also be concerned about how further disruption and change will impact the children who are facing their own sadness and the loss of the intact family.

The pain that goes along with loss is to be expected, and families cope with their pain in many different ways. I encourage families to look back at their family traditions and understand that there are traditions that they will be able to keep, and that they will also have the opportunity to develop new traditions over time.  When families develop a comprehensive parenting plan, parents can discuss special days such as birthdays, legal holidays, and other special days.

For example, if Mother’s side of the family always has Christmas dinner following church on Christmas Eve, and Father’s side of the family always has dinner on Christmas Day, can the family preserve these traditions for their children? Alternately, if one parent has a very rich Thanksgiving tradition, it will still be important for children to spend alternate Thanksgivings with the other parent and be involved in creating new traditions. We know that children benefit when they are able to experience family traditions with each of their parents. They have the joy of continuing to participate in ongoing traditions as well as the joy of creating new family traditions that they will cherish the rest of their lives.

Celebrating family holidays once a family is separated does not have to be all about loss; it can also be about creation and renewal. When parents work together to create a clear holiday schedule, they are able to maintain some old traditions and create some new traditions, which is a gift for their children.  It may also be helpful to have the assistance of Divorce Coaches and/or a Child Specialist to help create the parenting plan the best fits the needs of your children, and your family.

Sheryl Hausman is a licensed psychologist, Divorce Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County.

Photo Credit: Linda Hansen