The holiday survival guide: Tips for divided families

With winter holiday season in full swing, we’re all looking for ways to enjoy more and stress less. Families in the midst of separation or divorce face special challenges, and the children often find themselves in the middle of a tug-of-war between their parents — not the merriest of places to be.

Fortunately, a bit of planning goes a long way toward reducing tension. Here are some suggestions to help separated or divorced parents prepare.

  • If a custody order is in place, find it and review the outlined holiday schedule — preferably, with the other parent. If you have any questions, consult your attorney. Make sure you know the exact dates and times that the children are with each parent and confirm the schedule in writing, even if the details seem obvious.
  • Make a calendar for the kids and post it where they can see it. Sit down with the children and make sure they understand where they will be during the holidays. Let them talk about their feelings and frustrations. Be positive about holiday visits to help the children feel less guilt about being away from you.
  • If gift giving is part of your holiday, help your child shop for the other parent. And when you shop for your child, avoid competing with your ex over who gives the best gifts.
  • Be flexible. If the other parent has out-of-town relatives visiting on “your” days, do your best to work out a way for the children to visit. You don’t want to punish your children by keeping them away from family members they may not see except on holidays.
  • Start new traditions. Children don’t notice the day on the calendar as much as they love the celebration, especially if you are enthusiastic about it. Few kids will object to an extra Christmas or extended Hanukkah!
  • If the legal process of your divorce or separation is ongoing, consider putting it on hold until after the holidays. Even though you may want to get through the ordeal as soon as possible, the brief delay can bring the relief you need to enjoy the season.

You may not have a choice in how much time you spend with your children over the holidays, but you do have a choice in the kind of memories you’ll create while they’re with you. The holidays will pass in a few weeks, but happy memories will stay with your children for the rest of their lives.

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