Maintaining Holiday Traditions While Mom and Dad Are Separated

Should my husband and I spend Christmas morning together with the kids at his parents' house in spite of the fact that we've been separated for four months? He said he wants me to come because he's hoping to be present next year when it's my turn to have the kids on Christmas morning. Although I'd love to see my girls open their presents, I'm afraid this will send them mixed messages about the marital problems they know we're experiencing. What do you think is the right choice for my children?

It’s hard to give you a definitive answer without knowing more about the details of your situation. Ultimately, only you can decide what’s best for your kids. A great deal depends upon specific circumstances.

For instance: what are your goals and intentions with respect to the future of your marriage? Are you actively working on your relationship during this separation? Have you been seeing a counselor and taking steps to resolve your differences? Are you trying to put the marriage back together again? In that case, it would probably be a good idea to maintain your family’s holiday traditions and keep the celebration of Christmas as “normal” as possible. Far from sending “mixed messages” to your kids, this will demonstrate unity and solidarity, show them that you’re working together to weather the storm, and give them hope that the family is going to remain intact.

If, on the other hand, you’ve already made up your minds that the marriage is over and that divorce is your only option (your reference to next year, “when it’s my turn to have the kids on Christmas morning” seems to indicate as much), then we’d advise you to think again about accepting your husband’s invitation. Under these circumstances, there’s a very real danger that the celebration your spouse is planning could come across as a bit of insincere play-acting, a phony attempt to assume an appearance of normality. This in turn could prove extremely confusing for the kids. Besides, if there’s no hope for your marriage, we can’t help wondering about your husband’s motives in proposing this little get-together. Has he been honest with his parents? Do they know that the two of you are having problems? If not, there’s a very good chance that he’s simply trying to cover up and save face. He may even be using the kids to manipulate you somehow. Again, we can’t possibly know what’s really happening without additional information. You will know best how to respond.

The extent to which the children should be involved in making this decision will, of course, be a function of their age and maturity. If they’re eight, nine, or older, there’s no reason to hold back from asking them how they feel about joining Dad at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas. The older they are, the more likely you will be to include them in the process of hammering out a workable plan that’s acceptable to all concerned.

Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists available to provide you with sound advice and practical assistance over the phone. If you’d like to discuss your situation with one of them, call us for a free consultation. Our counselors can also provide you with references to reputable Christian therapists practicing in your area.

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Becoming a Family that Heals: How to Resolve Past Issues and Free Your Future

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