Tis the Season: Managing Holidays and Parent Separation

By: Casey A. Holtz, Ph.D.

Separation and divorce is 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 and the emotions tied to many family holidays further exacerbate challenges with already difficult decisions. 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 possible. Although this holiday season may feel very different from previous years, children find comfort in tradition. Baking together, watching movies, gathering with extended family, and certain traditional outings can provide stability amidst change for your children.
  4. Can you manage shared time during holidays? Children will often appreciate this effort and it can pay dividends in the children understanding 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.
  5. Separate time during holidays? Children will 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 inform the children of the importance of spending time with the other parent and to avoid sending messages of guilt.
  6. Find something to do when not with the children. It is easier to help the children you are ok when they are with the other parent if you are engaged in things 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.
  7. 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.

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