All families experience additional stress during celebrations and holidays, but recently separated and divorced families are often unprepared to face these stressors alone. As we head into the holidays, when everyone is expected to be happy and full of good cheer, your heart may be in shreds, your kids are confused, angry and fighting to understand why their family isn’t together. Take heart, this too shall pass and following some simple steps will help both you and your children find new joy in the Holidays.

1. Agree on the schedule well in advance.
If you are already divorced, you should have a parenting plan which addresses when, where and with whom your children will be during the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holiday and school break.
a. You should confirm in late October, early November, in writing with the other parent, your understanding of the upcoming schedule. DO NOT WAIT until the week before Thanksgiving to discover, you both have a different understanding of the Court’s order. IT WILL BE TOO LATE and you will be disappointed.
b. If you do not have a parenting plan in place, meet with the other parent and carve out equal time on each holiday, or agree in WRITING that one will have Thanksgiving and one will have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year and you will alternate next year.
c. If you are fortunate enough to work well together, share the holidays together as a family. It does happen!
Remember you know your children better than anyone else, believe it or not they love you both and you need to put their needs above your own. If you can’t figure it out yourselves, go see a third party– a minister, a trusted relative or a mediator.

2. Set the tone for your children.
If you are happy, your children will be happy. Be creative and implement new traditions, special to your new environment. If you complain about having less money for presents, and approach the holidays with dread, or anger, your children will take your cue and join you in having a miserable time. Instead, make homemade gifts together, and try new activities, get them involved in feeding the homeless, visiting a nursing home or a pet shelter. This can be a time to develop special traditions in each household that everyone can look forward to from year to year.

3. You can’t buy love.
Buying more gifts doesn’t prove that you are a good parent, make guilt go away, or show that you love the children best. Two wise parents I know, nipped competition and comparisons in the bud by deciding that all presents would be from both parents. If you can’t keep up with your ex’s spending, do creative projects with your children—bake cookies, make presents or go on inexpensive excursions. If you can’t do it all—don’t. Delegate holiday projects to friends, family and your co-parent.

4. Take time for You!
What were your favorite things, what were your goals before your life with you know who? Reach out to family and friends for support. Volunteer. Enjoy your religious traditions. Invite single friends to do something new. Be active—go skiing or hiking. Take in a good comedy.

5. Don’t overindulge.
Holidays are by definition, a time of overindulgence, however, if you drink too much, overspend your budget, or commit more time and energy than you have, you will only add to your stress. RELAX, make yourself enjoy every moment, with and without your children. Helping someone else is the best way to help yourself.

6. Psychotherapist, Jill Curtis reminds us, that “what suits one family will not feel right for another.
The important thing to keep in mind is that all the members who make up ‘a family’ will have a point of view about the holiday. Talk about it, don’t assume anything, and sometimes by taking a back seat and not insisting on ‘turkey and all the trimmings on the day’ or even the following day, will bring about lasting gratitude from those who feel so caught in the middle of family strife. Remember there are 364 other days in the year.”

Gail Linscott Silva, Esquire