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A Divorced Dad’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

On Behalf of | Dec 1, 2016 | Divorce

Moms traditionally do more of the holiday planning. Dads get their marching orders of picking up the ham, hanging lights outside, and perhaps a list when you take the kids shopping for presents.

This generally comes to an end once you are separated or officially divorced. After years of going through the routines and celebrating various family traditions at home or with your extended family and friends, your holidays are looking very different this year.

Divorce agreements typically arrange for the kids to alternate holidays and years between the parents. Perhaps you had the kids for Thanksgiving and that was great, but now you are looking at Christmas and the kids will be opening presents at the house with your ex or at her parent’s.

There are several ways to coping with this new reality and steps that can be taken to still make the holidays enjoyable for the kids, you and the rest of the family.

Check your custody agreement

Look over your custody agreement and make sure that you know when you have the kids and any other obligations outlined in the agreement. This will likely include drop off and pick-up with specific dates and times. Make sure that you are on time and honor every part of the agreement.

Communicate with the ex

The lines of communication should be particularly strong this time of year. Topics should include what presents the kids want and are getting so there isn’t overlap – two new bikes isn’t going to do Johnny any good. There may also be major gifts where the parents go halves or get complimentary gifts. Coordinate the holiday visits if there is a time where you will see the family even though it’s her year.


Do it if the kids and/or family and guests are coming over. While mom may do it at home, get the kids to help you hang decorations or lights. This will help create a new tradition and may help the kids to invest in their new life at your place.


You don’t need to go crazy, but you do need provide food if you plan to host kids and/or extended family and friends. Takeout Chinese doesn’t count unless that’s what everyone is clamoring for. If it is, then make that your new tradition!

Be flexible

Perhaps relatives of your ex who rarely visit are coming to town and the kids are dying to see them. Be accommodating: chances are you may need the same courtesy at some point, but make sure that you get some make-up time.

Take care of yourself

Perhaps the family traditionally goes to grandma’s in another city for the holiday so you will be on your own. Unless sitting home alone eating leftovers while watching the game sounds like bliss, check in to see what your parents, siblings or good friends are doing and make plans. Travel if the house seems too empty – get some R&R and recharge the batteries on a beach or go skiing. Great if the kids can come, great if they can’t. Volunteer if that sounds interesting to you — doing so can be quite rewarding and remind you to be thankful for what you do have.

Perhaps this isn’t enough. There are a lot of other divorced dads who are in your shoes. Click here for an extensive list of support groups. These people have been through or are going through what you are, and perhaps they can provide some advice or just listen. It’s all about finding a new way after your divorce, and being open to trying new things will serve you well this year and years to come.

Photo of Craig P. Treneff and Andrea L. Cozza
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