Planning for Seasonal Success: Holiday Tips for Parenting Apart

Just for grins, I decided to Google “holiday stress.” While I expected my return would be substantial, I have to admit I was a little taken aback when Google handed me about 428,000,000 results. Yikes!

Without a doubt, holidays present challenges for lots of families.  For those parenting out of two households, seasonal festivities often send stress levels soaring.   To make sure you and your kids have a successful season here are a few top tips to consider as you approach the holiday season.

Don’t focus on fair

When it comes to holiday scheduling and how time is shared between households, parents often become overly concerned with what’s fair and forget how it feels for kids. Remember what may feel fair for you, may not feel so great for your kids.

This holiday season, do your best to be flexible and let your children’s needs guide holiday planning.

 Keep kids in the loop

When the holidays hit, most of us quickly get caught up in seasonal angst. Instead of knowing what to expect, kids usually end up getting a moment’s notice or very little time to shift gears (i.e. “Hurry up and get your things, Dad will be here in 15 minutes.” or “What do you mean you didn’t know you were spending Christmas Eve with Mom.”) To keep things on track, consider using color-coded holiday calendars so kids will know how and when they will spend time with each parent. It also helps to include other significant seasonal events and time that will be spent with other important family members.

Along with how events are scheduled, set aside some time to talk with your children about what the holidays will look like.   Discuss what will be different and what will stay the same.  Additionally, spend time brainstorming with kids about which traditions they’d like to hang onto and where the family might be ready to embrace something new.

Smooth out transitions

Going back and forth between households can be a real challenge for kids—especially during the holidays.  Think ahead about how you can help your kids smoothly transition to the other parent’s home.  So for example, instead of pulling kids away from a festive family celebration and shuffling out them door to Mom’s or Dad’s house without warning, give your kids a heads up about what the plan is before you arrive.  (i.e.  “Today we will be at Aunt Sally’s house until 3:30 pm then we’re going to meet Mom at her house so you can have some special time to enjoy the holiday with her.”)

Also, do your best to deliver children that are in good spirits and well rested.  If you know your ex has plans with the children first thing in the morning. Don’t keep them out until midnight and drop them off in their pajamas without breakfast.

Keep the holiday tension free

When it comes to celebrating a first Christmas after the split, divorcing couples often struggle with whether they should spend the day together. Be mindful the key to making things work for your kids is to create a tension free holiday. If you and the other parent can reasonably manage your feelings, then a holiday together could be really meaningful for your children. However, if you can’t, you’re probably better off having separate celebrations.

Bigger isn’t always better

When you are sharing time between two households, it can be tempting to make the most of your limited time by overdoing or overindulging. Keep in mind; if you spend every single minute of your time together on the go, you’re likely to end up with fussy, overwhelmed and unhappy kids. To give your holiday balance, find ways to build in pockets of time with no agenda into your schedule. Think about sitting quietly with your kids and reading a book, taking a walk in the park or enjoying a late morning breakfast together in your pajamas. Remember bigger isn’t always better!

Do you have tips for handling the holidays?  If you have something to share that worked for you and your family please chime in below.

Until next time… Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays.

Christina McGhee, divorce expert

Feel overwhelmed by the holidays? Looking for answers but don’t know where to turn?
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