Holidays can be especially tricky to navigate as a newly divorced couple. It takes time to settle into the new normal – for you, your ex, and your children – and the holidays can be a great time for each of you to set new traditions that work for the shift in your family situation.

Parents must still parent

The important thing to remember is that children need to have their needs met; they need to be nurtured and comforted. Spend time with them and remind them that you will always be there for them, no matter what. They need to feel a sense of security from both parents.

Consequently, parents: when planning for the holidays after your divorce, you must rise up and step into your adult mode. It is important that you learn to override your own feelings for your ex and for the challenges of being divorced, and be positive and present when you are with your children.

Though your marriage may have failed to survive, your new family structure can still prosper if you take a mature, responsible role in making the best of your new situation.

New family dynamics = new traditions

Sometimes families reorganize in a way that includes step-parents and step-siblings. Here are some ways to start creating new holiday traditions after a divorce:

1. You and your spouse (if you have one) should set aside time to discuss a plan with your ex and new spouse, without anyone else present. Find a neutral meeting space such as a restaurant (not one of your homes) and, using my empathic process, take turns outlining what existing holiday traditions are important to each of you, as well as any existing traditions in any step-families to consider. This is where you must remember to place your children’s happiness above your own heated emotions, and find solutions that will work for you, your ex, and your children.

2. Invite children to participate in the process of creating new family rules and holiday experiences. Once again using my empathic process, allow your children to give input into the plans you and your ex discussed. Give them options from a few different choices that you have already thought through, if personally invested, they will be more likely to adapt comfortably to these new traditions. Your children may have inherited new parents and new siblings, and no one asked them their opinions or gave them a choice. The trauma of divorce can be deconstructing and allowing your children to participate in the final say of new holiday traditions can lead the way toward healthy reconstruction.

3. Plan on one-on-one time with each child during the holidays. If you have more than one child, it is important to remember that each child will react differently to the trauma of divorce. Younger children may regress into old patterns, such as wetting the bed, while older children may act out in anger or retreat in silence. The holidays are a wonderful time to reconnect on an individual basis. Plan a library and lunch date with your child who loves to read, or an ice skating and hot cocoa date with your oldest child. If this one-on-one connection time proves to be a success, you can easily repeat these experiences each year as new traditions with each of your children.

4. Hand down an important holiday task to your child. Divorce can sometimes make children feel like they are out of control and insignificant. Handing down an important annual holiday task that has always traditionally been handled by you or your ex, such as cutting the Thanksgiving turkey or hanging the top star on the tree, can help a child feel important. It is also a way to show your child that you trust him with such a valuable task, and a way to mark the transition from the old traditions to the new.

5. Expand your circle during the holidays. After a divorce, children especially can feel isolated and alone. Now is a great time to reach out to friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors, and invite them to your holiday gatherings, to help your children see how many people really do care about them. Although you and your ex may no longer be in love, you – and your circle of trusted friends and family – still care very much for your children. This is also a tradition that can help you navigate through the tricky holidays after your divorce.

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  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.