The issue of how to handle holidays and traditions involving adult children of divorcing parents has come up frequently in my practice. For minor children, the Court mandates that parents develop a holiday visitation schedule detailing visitation for each holiday and event. After the parties’ children reach 18 and graduate high school, this planning process is no longer required. As a result, many parents end the practice of preplanning for big events and holidays. This is a real problem, for even though the process is no longer ordered, there are real benefits to carefully handling traditions, holidays and family events with adult children of divorce. Talking about major events in your children’s lives still helps the divorcing parents close that chapter of their lives and create a path forward.
What is the process for minors?
The required planning process for minor children typically involves both parties speaking with a lawyer, a mediator and/or their therapist about how they want to work major life events, and how to keep traditions like Christmas sacred for their children. The parents have time to think about, process, and talk out these issues with the other party. While this process can be painful and contentious, at a bare minimum these issues are addressed. This process should not stop once children turn 18 nor should it be ignored in cases where the children are already adults. Divorcing parents of adult children should still talk to their lawyer and their therapist about how to address the divorce with their children. Adult children still have feelings about your separation and divorce. You need to create space and give them time to process their feelings, either with you, or a professional counselor.
How do I go about broaching these subjects?
Many families choose to engage a family therapist or mediator for the purpose of sitting down and talking about traditions after divorce. Major holidays often get the most attention, but other special days should be discussed, especially those more typical for adult children like: spring break, birthdays, summer break of children in college, the birth of a grandchild, graduation from college, the marriage of your children, or your remarriage.
I can’t even look at my Ex!
It is understandable that you may not want to have this conversation with your soon to be Ex. You are divorcing for a reason [or many reasons]. You don’t see eye to eye and it would be very uncomfortable to sit next to this person you used to sleep next to, and talk about still being a parent, while not being a spouse. Maybe you can’t have this conversation right away, or maybe you need to have this conversation several times. However, avoidance will not make these pressing issues go away.
Look into the future
The results of avoiding this conversation are far more damaging than trying to create a holiday and major event plan with your former spouse. Imagine showing up at your child’s college graduation, and realizing there is no seat saved for you. Imagine being put at the singles’ table, or not being invited to your child’s wedding.
Consider how much more stress your child will have approaching an already stressful and momentous event where both of their divorced parents will be present, worrying they will fight, worrying they will embarrass them, instead of looking forward to the event! Create a plan, and put it in action with your ex-spouse and children. Over time, the plan will reduce the stress and anxiety surrounding family events, and help to ensure that the time you spend with your children is more enjoyable, and not full of stress.
One family’s story
I recently worked with a family to develop a custom-tailored holiday plan to accommodate a fairly complicated tradition for Christmas: secret Santa stockings on Christmas Eve, church, cooking together (including the deep frying of candy bars), presents in the morning, church again, watching the children play with their new toys, and Christmas dinner. For the first Christmas after the divorce, for the first time ever, the father did not see his children, because the adult children were so uncomfortable that they avoided bringing up how to work out the logistics with their parents, and their parents did not take the lead. The next year, the parents faced the problem head-on, talked, and worked out a unique plan, one that might seem a little unorthodox, but the adult children saw both of their parents. If you asked anyone in that family, they would all prefer the last Christmas to the Christmas the year before.
Tips for addressing issues with adult children of divorce:
CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF THE 2016 GRADUATES AND TO ALL THE FAMILY MEMBERS WHO WERE ABLE TO BE THERE PEACEFULLY TO WITNESS THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENT!