The holidays can be a particularly difficult time for parents who are divorced or separated. Normal holiday stress from buying gifts, making holiday plans and being with extended family now has an extra dimension because of divorce-related emotions and logistics. Unfortunately, children pick up on these feelings and it can cause anxiety even if parents aren’t openly fighting. It’s important for divorced parents to make an extra effort during the holidays to put children first even if it means making some sacrifices. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help during the holidays:

Do work out holiday plans with your ex well in advance. Splitting up the day so children can spend some of the day with each parent, alternating holidays or celebrating holidays twice are all options. Whatever the solution, the important point is to be flexible, willing to cooperate and consider what is best for your children.

Don’t put your children in the middle. The holidays can aggravate animosity and jealousy but now is not the time to get into fights with your ex. In addition, don’t bad mouth your ex or his/her family to your children or otherwise try to influence them negatively towards your ex.

Do speak to extended family members. Relatives should know about your holiday plans. Family traditions may need to change. If there is resentment or disappointment about how much time they may have with your children, they can discuss it with you but ultimately everyone needs to compromise. In addition, you should coach relatives on how they can help your children feel better about the holidays and make sure they don’t say anything negative about your ex or his/her family.

Don’t compete over gifts. Gift-giving can be a source of conflict when parents use them to curry favor with children or make the other parent look or feel worse. Talk to your ex about gifts and cooperate in deciding what is and is not appropriate.

Do talk to your children about their feelings. The holidays can be hard especially if this is the first one following your separation. If necessary, seek out professional help if they seem to be struggling with the adjustment. Remember to tell them they are loved and both you and your ex will put them first.

Don’t be afraid to grieve your own loss. Your life has changed and it’s normal to feel grief, anger and sadness. Acknowledge those feelings, get professional help if needed and remember to focus on the positives in your life.

Unfortunately, these do’s and don’ts can be difficult to follow because the divorce process often results in extreme conflict among spouses. In fact, the divorce process can make animosity worse because it can drag on for years and encourages the parties to see themselves as winners and losers.

There is a better way. A collaborative divorce process allows spouses to find a solution that works for them and their children with the assistance of financial, legal and mental health advisors. When parents come together in this way, they not only resolve their divorce, but they create a way to move forward and deal with family issues – like how to spend the holidays – in a respectful and cooperative way.

For more suggestions on dealing with the holidays, check out these articles: Making Your Holiday Visitation Schedule and 15 Tips for a Divorce During the Holidays

If you are thinking about divorce, contact me to discuss your options.