Separation and divorce are often stressful for parents, and learning how to adjust to new routines and traditions can be especially challenging.  Further, parents commonly struggle to figure out how to share their children’s time between households; the emotions tied to many family holidays can make difficult decisions even harder.

Many parents aim to focus on their children during the holidays, but also notice traditions and holiday time matter very much to them as adults as well.

Here are a few tips as you look forward to the holidays:

  1. Try to keep things simple for the children. Keep transitions easy and conflict low.
  2. Discuss the holiday schedule well ahead of time. Any disagreements need to be settled in advance so both parents can communicate to the children how they will spend their holiday with confidence and contentment.
  3. Continue family traditions if able. Can you manage shared time during holidays? Children will often appreciate this effort, and it can foster their understanding that their family remains relatively intact regardless of separation. If parents are unable to manage joint time without arguments, conflict, or significant awkward behavior, it may be preferable to learn how to establish new and separate holiday traditions.
  4. Separate time during the holidays? Children appreciate the opportunity to celebrate with important people in their lives. There are numerous ways to decide how to split holiday time. It is also important each parent strongly support spending time with the other parent and to avoid sending messages of guilt.
  5. Find something to do when not with the children. It is easier to tell your children you are ok when they are with the other parent if you are engaged in activities you enjoy. If doing something very fun, try to avoid making the children feel as though they are “missing out” on something important when with the other parent.
  6. Try your best to be fair to your children. Understand the holidays may be difficult for them too. They may not know how to act without some help from you. They will want to know it is good for them to enjoy their time with both parents.

Remember, holidays can be stressful for the best of families.  It is challenging to balance everyone’s needs, whether that be you and your ex-spouse, or your son and your daughter, or Grandma and Great Uncle Steve.  Breathe deeply, express love to dear family and friends, focus on the present, and learn from any mis-steps.  Be curious and pay close attention to what is truly important to you and your children—you may be surprised.

-Casey A. Holtz, Ph.D., Milwaukee, WI