The holidays can be stressful enough in a normal year.  There are gifts to buys, people to see, cookies to bake, parties to throw. Oftentimes people get so wrapped up in the holiday ‘to do’ list, they lose sight of what’s important.

This is especially true when you add-in the stress of a recent separation or divorce.  Many newly separated or divorced parents feel tremendous guilt about breaking up their family unit.  This guilt is magnified during the holidays when parents place tremendous pressure on themselves to make the holidays perfect for their kids.

If you’re newly separated or divorced OR you’ve been divorced for years and have struggled with navigating the holidays – take a few minutes to reflect on the following tips.

  1. Holidays are for kids.  And, yes, it is your job to make the holidays a stress-free, wonderful and memorable time for them. They won’t be perfect, but they can be perfectly imperfect.

2. Be flexible. Your new parenting plan and custody arrangement will undoubtedly infringe on long held traditions of going to Grandma’s house or attending a specific church service.

3. Communicate clearly.  Make sure your kids and extended family know who has the kids and on which days well in advance.  This gives everyone the opportunity to adjust their plans accordingly.  You might celebrate with grandparents the weekend before or after Christmas Day.

4. Spare the guilt trip.  Your kids will feel guilty leaving one parent out of the festivities.  Don’t make it worse by lamenting that you’ll be home alone.  When your kids are going to be with your ex, make your own plans.  Whether you plan to spend time with other friends or family or simply enjoy a quiet night alone – make sure your kids know you are excited about your plans

 5. Don’t buy affection.  Don’t be tempted to spoil your kids with lavish gifts to win their affection or favor over your ex.  Kids want to feel love from their parents through actions not material items.  The best gift you can give them is your time and attention.  Create special memories by establishing a few new traditions that involve just you and your kids – bake cookies, decorate gingerbread houses, check out light displays or watch movies and snuggle.

6. Show love and grace to your child’s other parent. Your child can love their other parent (and potential step parents) and still love you.  It’s your job to be comfortable with this fact.  Help your child pick out or make a special gift for their other parent.  Your acceptance of this relationship is the first essential step in your kids feeling free to enjoy healthy relationships with all adults in their lives.

We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year.