Jay Hait
American Israeli Family Law Attorney

Getting through Hanukkah after Divorce

photo - Canva

Getting through Hanukkah after divorce can be a very challenging experience.

I had a client this fall named David*, who came to me terrified about getting through his first Hanukkah after his divorce. He shares joint custody of his kids and is going to have them alone for 4 of those very long 8 days of the holiday. And they are all off school. How can he make each day he spends with them special, he asked me. Cook all those meals; keep up with the laundry; find activities they will all like and that he can afford? What will he do with three very bored children turning on each other and quite possibly him, in frustration? And how can any of them deal with the disappointment of their new situation?

Not only did he tell me he was overwhelmed by his family responsibilities, but he still has to get some work done during the holiday week. He isn’t a multi-tasker. He told me he did one thing well at a time. The poor guy was staring down a very dark tunnel filled with overwhelming negative thoughts about juggling everything in his new reality, and his ability to manage.

I was a divorced father myself, many years ago, and faced some of the challenges that David and a number of my other clients have had to overcome. My own experiences and my clients’ willingness to share theirs has given me some thoughts on getting through Hanukkah after divorce.

Adjust Your Own Expectations

The late Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote in his book, No More Holiday Blues, “If you allow yourself to indulge in self-pity or fantasies of how your holidays ought to (or used to) be and then permit yourself to become depressed, you’ll be defeating yourself and bringing on the holiday letdown.”

I believe David made a common mistake right out of the gate. He was hoping to replicate that first Hanukkah as a single parent, with all the years preceding it. He and his ex-wife had shared the responsibilities of holiday prep and celebration before their divorce. She made the menu and he shopped. They cooked their family’s favorite Hanukkah meal together. Each night he would pile the kids in the car and pick up a batch of sufganiot fresh out of the oven of their neighborhood bakery. They chose gifts for the kids together and with two salaries he could afford to be a little extravagant. The fun activities they planned were perfectly manageable with two adults. Sometimes he would take the older kids on a jeep ride while his ex took their younger one to an amusement park. You get the picture. Even though they had been having challenges in their relationship the last few years, they had always managed to pull it together ‘for the kids’.

David was having a hard time dealing with his own sense of disappointment and feelings of incompetence. I advised him to get some help if he was going to be able to give himself and his kids a good holiday. Not to mention build a healthier emotional atmosphere in his home. 

I took the liberty of consulting with Dr. Mike Gropper, a prominent, American-trained clinical social worker and psychologist who has over 35 years experience helping families through the challenges of divorce. 

I asked him if David should let his kids know Hanukkah was hard for him this year. “There is nothing wrong with telling your kids you’re having a hard time with the holiday,” said Dr. Gropper. “It validates what they may be feeling also, and gives you an opportunity to say to them, ‘What about you?’”

Have an Honest Discussion with Your Kids

It’s important to acknowledge the sadness surrounding the change in circumstances in order to get through any holiday after divorce. Yours and your kids’. Talking about how different things are helps to validate everyone’s feelings and gives you all a chance to process them together. No one gets criticized and everyone feels heard. 

I was wondering how far one should go so as not to disappoint their kids. Should David be giving them extra presents or taking time off work to spend more time with his kids? And should he be giving into his ex-wife’s demands about changes in scheduling in order to relieve tension?

Dr, Gropper explained that there is no simple answer. “You have to know your kids. Be attentive to their feelings. Give them more time and attention. They need it.” He said that one should be flexible concerning the other parent’s demands or requests that violate the terms of the divorce agreement. “ Keep the focus on what is best for the child.”

The doctor told me something that I personally feel is extremely important for newly divorced parents to understand. He said, “Knowing what to do is not always clear and can be difficult. Get some guidance from friends and family whom you trust.”  I always advise my legal clients to consult with a therapist if they feel the need, as does Dr. Gropper. “There is much to learn about your child after a divorce,” he added.

I encouraged David to sit down with his kids and share his own feelings with them. And to give them a chance to share theirs with him, and each other. After their ‘family meeting’ he told me there had been tears. But there were also hugs and a sense of togetherness that helped them all feel closer.

Start Planning before The Holiday

Divorced dads often have extended family to rely on during Hanukkah to help bring a festive feel with meals and parties and presents. But David’s family doesn’t live in Israel. So he and the kids are on their own.

They sat down together in front of the computer and researched free activities and events. Unfortunately, because of fluctuating Covid restrictions, just about every website has listed events from back in 2019 with a note to watch for updates.

So they discussed all the things they can do on their own. 

  • A day-long road trip including hiking and a picnic.
  • Making a BBQ together with another family (a divorced dad and his kids). 
  • Planning a new and different holiday meal together. Choosing a menu, shopping for ingredients, and filming the whole experience. 
  • Finding a film they can watch together.

They came up with so many ideas, they realized that they can’t do them all in the 4 days they’re going to be together!

Create New Family Traditions

What seemed to David to be an insurmountable challenge turned out to be the best thing that has happened to his relationship with his kids since the divorce. They had the first of what he hopes will be many honest discussions where they can allow themselves to be vulnerable and feel safe. They are looking forward to making that cooking video every year and comparing how they’ll grow and change. The BBQ idea is a wonderful new tradition for them. They want to host more families each year – even planning on it becoming a Hanukkah event. 

David and his kids are not only getting through Hanukkah after divorce, they are now thriving in a secure and healthy environment. They have found ways to form a stronger bond and make great new memories. 

You can reach Jay Hait at 077 200-8161 if you have any questions about divorce or child custody. Hait Family Law

About the Author
Soon after returning to Israel with his family fom a 14 year hiatus in the US, American born and bred attorney Jay Hait went through a vicious divorce exposing him to the dark side of family law in Israel. When it was all over and he came out with custody over his young children, Jay switched from corporate to family law because he knew that there had to be a better way -even within the confines of the Israeli legal system.
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