Two Christmases Aren’t that Cool: Seven Tips for Enjoying Holidays for Parents and Kids of Divorce


Advice for divorced parents on how to enjoy split holiday time, from the team behind the documentary SPLIT

Last week we announced the making of SPLIT, an affecting documentary film on divorce as told from the point of view of 12 kids, ranging in age from six to twelve, by award-winning filmmaker Ellen Bruno. We divorced kids always used to brag to the marrieds how cool our two Christmases would be, how our embittered parents would out-buy each other for our affections. Ah, sweet yuletide nights!

Divorce coach and Split supporter, Christina McGhee, offers more practical tips to enjoying the holidays than buying your kids stuff.

Keep your emotions in check

This holiday season your children will be taking their cues from you. Make sure you are paying attention to your feelings and needs this holiday season. Think through where you might need a little extra support and create a plan for how you can meet those needs.

Talk about it

Be sure you talk with your children about what the holiday will look like for your family this year. While it may seem like an obvious thing to do, have a discussion about what will be different and what will stay the same. It can also helpful to discuss with kids what’s most important to them this holiday season but also what will be the hardest parts. Although you may think you know how your kids are feeling, take time to do a quick check in. Not only does it give you a chance to learn a little more, it reassures your kids that it’s okay to talk.

Don’t focus on fair

When it comes to holiday schedules and special celebrations, do your best to stay focused on how it feels for your kids. Remember what may feel fair to you or your Ex may not feel so great for your kids.

Whenever possible be flexible and let your kids’ needs guide your holiday planning.

Map it out

When the holidays hit, keeping kids informed about plans or last minute changes often get lost in the shuffle.

To keep things on track, make a color-coded holiday calendar so kids will know how and when they’re spending time with each parent. It also helps to include other significant seasonal events or special days with other important family members.

Give kids a heads up

Going back and forth between Mom’s house and Dad’s house can be a real challenge for kids. Think ahead about how you can help your kids smoothly transition to the other parent’s home. For example, instead of pulling kids away from a festive family celebration and shuffling out them door to Mom’s or Dad’s house without warning, give your kids a heads up about what the plan is before you arrive.

Keep it simple

When you’re sharing time between two households, avoid the temptation to “supersize” your holiday by overdoing or overindulging kids. Keep in mind; if you spend every single minute of your time together on the go, you’re likely to end up with fussy, overwhelmed and unhappy kids.

Give your holiday balance by creating pockets of down time with your kids. Think about sitting quietly and reading a book together, taking a walk in the park or enjoying a late morning family breakfast in your pajamas. Remember, less can be more.

Have fun

Whatever you do this holiday season, don’t forget to have fun and stay flexible. While traditions are important, consider the possibility of changing things up. Instead of re-shaping the whole holiday, think about one thing you could do different that you and your kids will enjoy. Along with strengthening your relationship, breaking away from the “usual” can also create special memories for years to come.

—About SPLIT:

Scheduled for release in the fall of 2013, SPLIT offers a candid and revealing look at how kids of divorce feel about family change. Reassuring children they’re not alone, Bruno’s film also offers lots of healing moments as kids from all walks of life open up about heartaches and lessons learned.

To see a clip of Bruno’s work in progress or to make a contribution to this very special project, visit their Kickstarter page.

About Robert Duffer

Robert Duffer ( is the editor of the Dads & Families section of The Good Men Project. Winner of the Chicago Public Library's writing contest, his work appears in the Chicago Tribune, MAKE Magazine, Chicago Reader, Curbside Splendor, Time Out Chicago, Chicago Public Radio, Annalemma, New City, and other coffee-table favorites like Canadian Builders Quarterly. He teaches creative writing at Columbia College Chicago and lives in the suburbs with his wife, two kids, and their minivan. Follow @DufferRobert, Google+, facebook.


  1. I know it’s easier said then done, but when possible, include the ex and their family- even if you are picking your kids up from the ex’s family holiday party, call well before and say that “__________ really has a difficult time transitioning, would it be OK if I come in for coffee before the kids say their goodbyes?”

    Also, I think it’s helpful when the parents encourage other family members to be inclusive. Now, I am married, but I was a teacher for many years, and all I really learned was that parents have great big egos! Maybe it’s uncles, cousins, or other sets of grandparents, but it’s a time of joy and peace. Suck it up, both parents, and be there for your kids- they will learn more from your good behavior then the naughty…

    • Difficult indeed, Maia, but exceedingly beneficial for the kids if it can be done without conflict. For many where old wounds are easily picked, visiting with the ex and the ex’s family without conflict can be a Christmas miracle. Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!

  2. Tom Matlack says:

    All great advice. From a guy who has been there and done that the one other thing I would recommend is to try to remember that Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate) is just another day. Take the pressure off and focus on having great time with your kids whenever that happens. Don’t buy into the Hollywood image of the family on Christmas morning. That is hype and not true for most people. Every day love is what really counts.

    • Good advice for anyone, anyday, Tom. So easy to overlook in the quest for Skylander’s Giants, or whatever fading fad.

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