Should a divorced single parent spend the holidays with the ex?


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As a children’s minister, have you ever encountered a single parent who asks you about spending the holidays with his ex? The children might be pushing the adults to do this. The single parent wants to please the kids but is seeking your input. How will you respond?

In this article, you will discover some points to think about before answering the single parent who has approached you about spending the holidays with the ex. And you’ll also learn why many divorced parents attempt to celebrate the holidays like one big, happy family—only to find that this is not always the best idea.

The reality is that the divorce has changed the family unit.

One question you should ask the single parent is, “What is the real reason you want to spend the holidays with a person who is no longer part of your family?” Many times, the parent simply has not considered the reality that the ex is no longer part of the family. Asking this question helps parents realize that they have no obligation to celebrate Christmas with their ex.

This question also helps parents recall that there are reasons that they are not a family anymore. Some parents might be tempted to reminisce about the holidays they shared as a family without thinking about the reasons they aren’t together anymore.

Children’s hopes and dreams

Keep in mind that kids often feel like the divorce is somehow their fault. During the holidays, their grandiose dream is to get their parents back together, partly because they will no longer feel guilty and partly because they really miss the intact family. For many children, coming together as one big, happy family will only build up hope in their mind that, maybe, just maybe, their parents will get back together again. One mother overheard her elementary-school-age son telling his sister,

“Hey, Sis, isn’t it great that Dad’s coming over for Christmas? We need to try and be really good, so he and Mom will remember how happy we used to be. Then maybe he’ll come back home again.”

If the parents do decide to spend Christmas Day together, caution them to sit down and talk to the children and let them know that this is only a one-day event. The other parent will return to his house at the end of the day.

Children’s worries

Children’s ministers also need to be aware that some children are very stressed by thinking about their two parents being in one house for an extended period of time. The child might think,

What happens if Mom and Dad start fighting and arguing?


Oh, great, Mom and Dad in the same room. Yippee, I can feel the awkwardness already.

If one parent has decided to start dating, then the children may wonder if the significant other will also show up. If so, then the children will agonize over how the parent they live with is going to handle this.

Children in general are protective of their parents. They may want to shield and protect their parents from being hurt again. For these children, the holidays become a very stressful time. They can’t enjoy our Savior’s birth because of the stress and the anxiety that are building within them.

Parents’ issues

Another reason divorced parents might want to celebrate the holidays with the ex is to show the ex how well they are doing. They may not admit it, but secretly, they want to flaunt their new life.

Encourage the single parent not to do this. Although the parents may appear to be doing fine and be acting quite happy, the children might still be struggling. This parental behavior could backfire and create distance between the parent and child.

Children might question how the parent can be so happy, yet they are sad, angry, and sullen. Children need a parent they can trust and count on to notice that they are still struggling. Encourage the single parent to take time to focus on the children during this time of the year.

If you are ministering to the parent who didn’t want the divorce, realize that the parent’s unconscious agenda might be to try to entice the ex to reconcile. The parent may wonder and hope that, if the ex joins the family at Christmas, he might remember how much the family means to him and return.

What you can do

Although it can be okay to celebrate the holidays with the ex in some circumstances, single parents should be careful of potential trouble spots. To help parents avoid them, stress the need for parents to face the reality that they now have a single-parent home. Remind them to be aware of how celebrating with the ex could affect the children. Also, ask parents to consider their motives for celebrating with the ex.

When the children have a good relationship with the other parent and are old enough to contact the other parent, encourage single parents to allow the children to make their own arrangements for the holidays. The children can visit with each parent at their own homes.

If you would like an article to share with the single parents in your church, feel free to print the article “Thinking about celebrating the holidays with your ex?”

For more holiday articles for the single parents in your church, visit our DC4K (DivorceCare for4 Kids) ParentZone.

DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.

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