Written by Dr Monica Borschel and Attorney DeLacy Crovo, J.D.
The holidays can be both joyous and tumultuous. Holiday traditions are a way to connect to our ancestry, heritage, and community. Traditions are also full of memories. You might remember one holiday where the traditions were silly, warm, or perhaps led to conflict.
Marriage often brings new holiday traditions. The person you marry also has traditions from their culture and heritage. You and your ex might also have started new holiday traditions together. If you do not have children, eliminate any holiday traditions that distress you. If you have children, they must celebrate traditions from their parent’s heritage. Your children might want to have separate traditions at two different homes.
In the legal world, a Judge will often try to preserve family traditions even if it means setting aside more time for one parent over the other. For example, suppose the mother wants to continue bringing the children to midnight mass, a tradition her children have grown fond of and have formed good memories from, instead of alternating Christmas Eve. In that case, the Judge may award Christmas Eve to the mother each year after that.
The most important thing to remember is your children’s emotions around the holidays and the separation. It is common for children to want to protect their parent’s feelings. Your children might like the holiday traditions of the other parent but might not want to stress you out with them. If the holiday traditions are distressing, you may find new ones that honor both cultures and heritages.
Here are some reasons to keep and not to keep some of the traditions:
Reasons to Keep the Traditions
- Your Children Love This Tradition: There are some traditions that your children might be attached to. Divorce and separation are also stressful for children. Too much change at one time can lead to more stress or unpredictability. The more predictability your children have, the safer they will feel.
- The Tradition is a Part of Your Child’s Heritage: Your children can connect with their heritage and culture through traditions. Keeping them connected to their community through traditions helps them to feel safe in their identity. Saying negative things about your ex’s culture, family, or heritage will harm your children emotionally and psychologically.
- Predictability: Your children will appreciate the predictability of the tradition. The more predictability you can provide for your children, the safer they will feel.
In the above example, the mother must also establish that the father is unwilling to preserve a well-loved tradition on Christmas Eve. In turn, this would mean that the children would have to forgo a special event or tradition every other year, viewed as a disruption in an already stressful time.
Reasons Not To Keep The Tradition
- The Tradition is Distressing: If the tradition is distressing you or your children, you do not need to keep it. You could speak to your children if it is only disturbing you. You do not need to tell them that the tradition is distressing to you because it reminds you of your ex. However, you can speak to your children about introducing a new tradition that replaces the old one.
- It Adds Overwhelm or Stress to Your Life: If the holiday tradition adds too much stress to your life, speak to your children. You can ask them how they would feel if they did not have that tradition. If they want to keep it, ask them if they have ideas to make it easier. If they are too young to be able to answer that question, ask them if you can skip it for one year to give yourself a break. If they are still upset, try to find ways to simplify the tradition. Your stress levels might also be high from the divorce. Children often feel what their parents are feeling.
- Your Ex Wants to do the Tradition with Your Children: If possible, communicate with your ex about what traditions they would like to do. If you want to do the tradition, you can both do it. If you are not into it, perhaps your ex is happy to keep it. Suppose either parent is capable of performing or attending a family tradition. In that case, it is more likely that a Judge will order the Parties to alternate or co-attend the event or tradition.
Creating New Traditions
- New Traditions Can Create A Fresh Start: New traditions can help your family feel that a new start is fun and exciting. Over time, you could include friends or new partners. The idea is to ensure the children come first and are the priority.
Holidays are meant to be a festive time that brings people closer together. If the holidays are painful for you, ask yourself why. If it is due to family conflict, consider how you can set boundaries with your family. If the holidays remind you of bad times and trauma, a mental health professional can help you. Your children want you to be happy as well.
It should be noted that to convince a judge that one parent deserves a larger block of holiday time than the other, that parent must prove two things. First, the parent must prove that the tradition is well-established. Second, the parent must establish that the tradition is well-liked and enjoyed by the child (ren). In other words, setting a new tradition after divorce will not prove favorable in a court of law.
Monica Borschel, Ph.D. Divorce and Trauma Recovery Coach
Monica is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah. She later moved to New York City, earning her master’s in clinical psychology from Columbia University. She then pursued her Doctorate in Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong. Her training and qualifications include certifications in Brainspotting and High Conflict Coaching.
Attorney DeLacy Crovo, J.D.
Attorney Crovo is originally from Boston and settled there right after graduating from Suffolk University Law School on Beacon Hill. Her career began as an Assistant District Attorney for Middlesex County. After honing her litigation skills at the DA’s Office, Attorney Crovo opened her Family Law Practice, where she has successfully created family law solutions and litigated family law cases for over thirty years. Attorney DeLacy Crovo and Monica Borschel can offer consultations together upon request. A financial advisor can be included.
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