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Why Is the Interruption of Routines at Christmas So Difficult for a Child of Divorce?

child of divorce

A child of divorce gets used to a particular routine. While living in a different house every week or leaving your home to spend every other weekend with a different parent might not seem like a routine to us adults, to children, it is what has become their routine.

It is a schedule that has become a routine they can count on to happen. They can look forward to seeing the other parent every other Friday. Or they know that each Saturday morning, they will be moving to the other parent’s home for a week. After months or even years, this convoluted schedule becomes comfortable and doable for children of divorce.

One thing that makes the holidays difficult for children is the interruption of routines and rituals. Routines lend themselves to a sense of security, and everyone knows that routines go out the window during the holiday times. Please encourage single parents to try and keep the routines the same as much as they can.

Tell the single parents in your church that when things have to change, let their children know: “Things are going to be a little bit different today. We’re going to do such and such.” Routines, rituals and traditions are very important to children. Encourage single parents to make concessions for the kids if the adults’ schedule gets hectic.

Several years ago, my church’s choir was practicing every night for our Christmas cantata. One of our young, single moms, who had a two-year-old and a three-year-old, was a real trooper. She was there for each rehearsal. She made concessions for her kids. She brought their pajamas to rehearsal and dressed them for bed before they got in the car to return home. She also allowed her kids to sleep in the living room with her for these two weeks. Their bedtime was about the only quality time they were able to be together these two weeks.

Why it is important to keep some of the same traditions for kids during the holidays?

Many times during the holidays, single parents want to protect their children. They don’t want the kids to remember how things used to be when the parents were married. They try to make everything different, and sometimes that’s a mistake. Sometimes it’s OK to keep things the same. Children feel security in family traditions.

Perhaps when married, the parents took the kids to see the Nutcracker every year. Now, in the single-parent family, money is tight, and the parent considers not taking the children to a performance. The children really enjoy the Nutcracker, so naturally, they want to continue this tradition.

Encourage the single parent to add to the tradition rather than abolish it. For instance, perhaps the single parent could afford to take the kids to a less-expensive matinee instead of an evening performance. Maybe the single parent could take the children for hot chocolate after the event. Suggest little, subtle things the parent can do to blend the old tradition with a new tradition.

Encourage single parents to sit down and talk with their children. Tell single parents to ask their children about what traditions they want to change. Perhaps this year, it is time the single parent and kids developed some new traditions. I like to encourage single parents to try one new Christmas celebration each year. The ones they like can become long-term traditions.

Urge the single parents in your church to go with the flow of what their children want to do. Any changes single parents make need to feel comfortable to them. If single parents don’t feel comfortable, that will impact the children.

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on December 9, 2013.

This article originally appeared here.

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Linda Ranson Jacobs is one of the forefront leaders in the areas of children and divorce and single-parent family needs. Having been both divorced and widowed, Linda was a single mom who learned firsthand the emotional and support needs of broken families, and she developed a passion to help hurting families. As a children’s ministry director, children’s program developer, speaker, author, trainer, and therapeutic child care center owner, Linda has assisted countless single-parent families and their children. In 2004, Linda created and developed the DivorceCare for Kids program, a biblically based, Christ-centered ministry tool designed to bring healing, comfort, and coping and communication skills to children of divorce. Local churches use this lay-led, 13-week program to launch a children’s divorce recovery ministry in their church and community.