How to Navigate Holiday Challenges for Children and Young Adults of Divorce

Family navigating the holidays for children and young adults of divorce

Holidays with family can be stressful no matter what the circumstances. They are especially challenging for children with multiple family units due to their parents remarrying and creating new, blended families. For some children, these challenges may include additional extended family, siblings, and parents. In other cases, it could create an absence of family members that may have been present in the past.

It is important to be sensitive to the difficulties facing children of divorce, especially at this time of year. While it may seem that everyone is looking forward to the holidays, many children of divorce are anxious about navigating new or strained relationships in the artificial environments that are inevitable during the holidays.

For older or adult children of divorce with greater autonomy, the holidays can still be challenging to navigate. After divorce, children perceive one parent as leading a noticeably happier life than the other in many cases. It is tough to balance wanting to spend time around the holidays in a happy, comfortable environment versus trying to spend time with a parent who they perceive as “needing” their company. This imbalance is incredibly difficult and is often a recipe for resentment on all sides.

The point is to do what makes you feel comfortable while trying to include everyone. If, of course, that is both possible and what you want to do.  

Should I spend the time with my siblings or parents?

Family is family, and in a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to choose. But with family spread out, sometimes across the globe, it is not always possible to see everyone on a specific day. So if you haven’t seen a particular relative in a while and have the opportunity to visit with them over a holiday, you should voice your wishes.

In our blended family, my husband and I allowed our children in past years (when they were old enough, of course) to plan a holiday vacation where they left us off the guest list! My kids and my husband’s kids all had a fantastic time, and we weren’t insulted in the slightest that we were left behind. On the contrary, it gave us such joy to see our blended family functioning as a cohesive family unit. It was the best holiday gift we could ever have asked for.    

Which siblings are priorities?

The ones you prioritize, naturally. The ones you have the strongest relationships with. In our blended family, that has nothing to do with the word “step” in front of it. My children and my husband’s children do and are there for each other. We raised them in an environment where no one’s needs were more important than another’s.

If one child asked for special privileges, we weighed whether we would grant them. If one child needed disciplining, we considered that as well. There were no special favors and no “Get Out of Jail Free” cards offered either.

It created a home filled with familial equality, gender equality, and any other equality you can imagine. The result is our kids are here for each other, supporting their success and lending their support when asked for or needed. For example, when I was out of town due to a snowstorm, my husband’s daughter went to my son’s parent-teacher conference in my absence. It was an act of love that I will never forget.

Will there be unpleasant interactions with my extended family in either circumstance?

I would love to promise that every family interaction you have will be a positive one. But, unfortunately, that is not always how the world works.

As much as we try not to hurt other people’s feelings or upset them, it happens. Of course, we hope their responses will be reasonable, but it is crucial to recognize that you can only control your behavior even if someone else can’t control their own.

What another person says or does is on them. And we, including you, deserve to be happy. So, do your best to make the situation work for everyone with the understanding it may not.

Final thoughts…

As hard as it is, the best practice is to advise your children to do what feels rights to them. That means allowing them to make their holiday plans without feeling the pressure of familial obligation from you, even if you cannot control what other family members do.

Your support is critical. So is your love, which is the true spirit of the holidays. 

Our team of experienced family law and estate planning attorneys are available to help you with anything you need. Contact us to schedule a consultation and discuss your current needs.

While it may be nice for the family members you don’t see as often, if you feel that seeing them over the holidays will upset you or make your holiday unenjoyable, don’t. Instead, see if you can arrange to see these family members for part of the holiday. This arrangement can work in several ways.

For instance, see if they are open to splitting the events. For example, Christmas Eve at one house and Christmas Day at another. Or Christmas morning in one location and Christmas Day in another.

The point is to do what makes you feel comfortable while trying to include everyone. If, of course, that is both possible and what you want to do.  

Should I spend the time with my siblings or parents?

Family is family, and in a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to choose. But with family spread out, sometimes across the globe, it is not always possible to see everyone on a specific day. So if you haven’t seen a particular relative in a while and have the opportunity to visit with them over a holiday, you should voice your wishes.

In our blended family, my husband and I allowed our children in past years (when they were old enough, of course) to plan a holiday vacation where they left us off the guest list! My kids and my husband’s kids all had a fantastic time, and we weren’t insulted in the slightest that we were left behind. On the contrary, it gave us such joy to see our blended family functioning as a cohesive family unit. It was the best holiday gift we could ever have asked for.    

Which siblings are priorities?

The ones you prioritize, naturally. The ones you have the strongest relationships with. In our blended family, that has nothing to do with the word “step” in front of it. My children and my husband’s children do and are there for each other. We raised them in an environment where no one’s needs were more important than another’s.

If one child asked for special privileges, we weighed whether we would grant them. If one child needed disciplining, we considered that as well. There were no special favors and no “Get Out of Jail Free” cards offered either.

It created a home filled with familial equality, gender equality, and any other equality you can imagine. The result is our kids are here for each other, supporting their success and lending their support when asked for or needed. For example, when I was out of town due to a snowstorm, my husband’s daughter went to my son’s parent-teacher conference in my absence. It was an act of love that I will never forget.

Will there be unpleasant interactions with my extended family in either circumstance?

I would love to promise that every family interaction you have will be a positive one. But, unfortunately, that is not always how the world works.

As much as we try not to hurt other people’s feelings or upset them, it happens. Of course, we hope their responses will be reasonable, but it is crucial to recognize that you can only control your behavior even if someone else can’t control their own.

What another person says or does is on them. And we, including you, deserve to be happy. So, do your best to make the situation work for everyone with the understanding it may not.

Final thoughts…

As hard as it is, the best practice is to advise your children to do what feels rights to them. That means allowing them to make their holiday plans without feeling the pressure of familial obligation from you, even if you cannot control what other family members do.

Your support is critical. So is your love, which is the true spirit of the holidays. 

Our team of experienced family law and estate planning attorneys are available to help you with anything you need. Contact us to schedule a consultation and discuss your current needs.

Your children will probably have questions around the holidays about how they should handle specific scenarios. As a Seattle divorce and family lawyer and a once divorced single mom myself and, today, a stepmom in my own blended family, I have a few ideas. What follows are a few of the more common questions you may have to field from your kids and my advice.

Is it more important to spend the holidays with family who I see less often?

While it may be nice for the family members you don’t see as often, if you feel that seeing them over the holidays will upset you or make your holiday unenjoyable, don’t. Instead, see if you can arrange to see these family members for part of the holiday. This arrangement can work in several ways.

For instance, see if they are open to splitting the events. For example, Christmas Eve at one house and Christmas Day at another. Or Christmas morning in one location and Christmas Day in another.

The point is to do what makes you feel comfortable while trying to include everyone. If, of course, that is both possible and what you want to do.  

Should I spend the time with my siblings or parents?

Family is family, and in a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to choose. But with family spread out, sometimes across the globe, it is not always possible to see everyone on a specific day. So if you haven’t seen a particular relative in a while and have the opportunity to visit with them over a holiday, you should voice your wishes.

In our blended family, my husband and I allowed our children in past years (when they were old enough, of course) to plan a holiday vacation where they left us off the guest list! My kids and my husband’s kids all had a fantastic time, and we weren’t insulted in the slightest that we were left behind. On the contrary, it gave us such joy to see our blended family functioning as a cohesive family unit. It was the best holiday gift we could ever have asked for.    

Which siblings are priorities?

The ones you prioritize, naturally. The ones you have the strongest relationships with. In our blended family, that has nothing to do with the word “step” in front of it. My children and my husband’s children do and are there for each other. We raised them in an environment where no one’s needs were more important than another’s.

If one child asked for special privileges, we weighed whether we would grant them. If one child needed disciplining, we considered that as well. There were no special favors and no “Get Out of Jail Free” cards offered either.

It created a home filled with familial equality, gender equality, and any other equality you can imagine. The result is our kids are here for each other, supporting their success and lending their support when asked for or needed. For example, when I was out of town due to a snowstorm, my husband’s daughter went to my son’s parent-teacher conference in my absence. It was an act of love that I will never forget.

Will there be unpleasant interactions with my extended family in either circumstance?

I would love to promise that every family interaction you have will be a positive one. But, unfortunately, that is not always how the world works.

As much as we try not to hurt other people’s feelings or upset them, it happens. Of course, we hope their responses will be reasonable, but it is crucial to recognize that you can only control your behavior even if someone else can’t control their own.

What another person says or does is on them. And we, including you, deserve to be happy. So, do your best to make the situation work for everyone with the understanding it may not.

Final thoughts…

As hard as it is, the best practice is to advise your children to do what feels rights to them. That means allowing them to make their holiday plans without feeling the pressure of familial obligation from you, even if you cannot control what other family members do.

Your support is critical. So is your love, which is the true spirit of the holidays. 

Our team of experienced family law and estate planning attorneys are available to help you with anything you need. Contact us to schedule a consultation and discuss your current needs.

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