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Tips To Get Through The Holiday Season For Divorced or Recently Separated Parents

The holidays can be a stressful time, it’s a flurry of shopping, wrapping and cooking and counting down the days left to get things done! For children of divorced or separated parents, the holidays can be even more difficult. Because nothing casts a light on how much things have changed in an evolving family a time defined by family traditions. However, despite these challenges, divorcing or separating spouses still can create a happy holiday season for their children while still maintaining their own sanity.

Here are some things to consider when planning a child-centered and stress-free (hopefully) holiday season:

Communicate and Coordinate

It’s natural for any parent to want to spend as much holiday time as possible with their children. But as we all know sharing is easier said than done. Especially at a time when the expectation for creating “epic family memories” is unreasonably high. If there’s one time of year to put your differences aside, this is it. Don’t let scheduling become a battle of who gets the most time with the child; focus on what’s best for them. Because no matter which parent they are with, creating a loving and conflict-free environment is what they need most. A brief conversation with your ex can insure that you don't duplicate presents or plan back-to-back feasts for stuffed and confused children. Taking ten minutes now to communicate with the other parent will help ensure a happy, successful and stress-free holiday season.

Details. Details. Details.

Hopefully there is a parenting plan already in place that will determine the exact details of your children’s holiday vacation. If there is no parenting plan in place, working out all the details early will put an ease on the holidays. Another consideration for holiday planning: don’t get so hung up on the name of the days. Religious traditions are vital, however as far as the presents and food go, Christmas Day is just another day, when it comes down to it. Spending quality time together is way more important than ensuring it hits a specific square on a calendar. It also frees you and your co-parent up to make plans that work for both of your schedules and eases the stress of butting heads over a single, specific day. Plus, no one says you can’t have an all-out holiday dinner with all the fixings on Dec. 28 – and what kid is going to be upset at two Christmases? Make a plan early and then stick to it. That way the kids have ample time to prepare themselves for being away from one parent, because they likely wish it could be “the way it used to be.”

Create New Traditions

Establish traditions with your children, even new ones that may be different from past rituals. Your kids may not remember the details of 2018, but year-in, year-out traditions will stay with them for a lifetime. The urge to have things the way they were is strong with kids, and can be an especially a sore point during the holidays if the parental split is new. That said, this is a great opportunity to create new traditions. It gives kids something to look forward to at each parent’s house rather than focusing on what has changed or is gone. Go to a new light display, make baked goods together, volunteer at a shelter or even caroling. Small gestures like these can be fun for kids and can subtly define two new households without being explicit.

Love Means Far More Than Money

The holidays can be a gift-giving minefield. You know how it goes: one parent gets the kids a reasonably-priced sweater; the other gets them the designer sneakers. It’s an age-old tale of co-parents and one that should be candidly and openly discussed before the holidays. It’s extremely important to set and agree upon a gift-giving budget at the holidays, especially if there is financial disparity between co-parents. First, it’s a sure-fire way to stoke the flames of conflict between co-parents. But more importantly, it sends a negative message to the kids, one that equates money with love. Which is certainly not a good lesson. While it can be hard to curb spending if you’re the one with a more secure financial situation, remember it’s about the child, not you. So, set a fair budget that works for both co-parents and stick to it. After all, showering kids in gifts won’t fix the fact that their parents are no longer together and living under the same roof. Remember: what they really need is YOU more than they need stuff. Your children need time, attention, and emotional presence much more than lavish gifts. You may be short on money, but you can be long on love.

Introduce Significant Others Gradually

Not all new traditions are met with open arms. That’s often the case when there’s a new significant other in the picture. Remarriage and new partners are normally extremely tough for children to accept, as they often interpret the addition as a replacement of their other parent. If you have someone new in your life, be sure to discuss the new influence on the children with your co-parent. Create an open dialogue, away from the children, to ensure the new person is incorporated fairly and smoothly. If possible, gradually introduce the new person well before the holidays, and discuss any “new” traditions or holiday plans that may now be involved. For example, if a new spouse celebrates Hanukkah, talk about how best to introduce that holiday to your children. Celebrating not one but two holidays can be an exciting concept for the children. You may not always have time to prep ahead and properly introduce a new person into your child’s life before an event like the holidays, but by including them in the conversation shows them respect and improves your chances for a smoother acceptance of your new partner.

Be Flexible to Last-Minute Changes

As much as planning is great, we all know life happens. Last-minute changes around the holidays can be especially difficult, as it might result in cancelled plans or missed visits with relatives. This can spark bargaining between co-parents. Try to avoid the blame-game and remember, it’s all about the kids and their happiness. Don’t bargain in front of them; instead work out a new schedule that accommodates both parents’ ability to spend time with the children.

The Holidays Are All About The Golden Rule

This may seem like a no-brainer but nerves are often frayed and raw during difficult times. And that’s only exacerbated by the intensity of the holiday season. So, keep the phrase “be kind” in mind as you navigate the season. Your kids are watching, and if they see you treating your co-parent with kindness, respect and civility, they will learn that even when dealing with conflict, they should always treat people kindly. As co-parents, you’re faced with all kinds of stressors. Simply being aware of that can improve the way co-parenting decisions are made. During the holidays, it’s worth the extra effort as it will help ensure that your kids’ holiday memories are marked with joy and happiness, not conflict. And as any parent knows, the joy of watching your children grow up to be happy, content, and secure, is the biggest de-stressor of all.

Divorce and separation with minor children can be emotionally difficult and the decisions made can affect you for many years. We have years of experience helping our clients through the difficulty of divorce and creating a suitable parenting plan. Contact us today at (253)838–3377 or email at, to talk about your divorce or need to create a parenting plan.

Disclaimer: All materials provided on this website have been prepared by Bains Law Firm for general information purposes only and no representation is made as to their completeness or accuracy. Information on this website is not intended as legal advice, and may not be relied upon as such. Only an attorney who can review the unique facts of each case and apply them to the statutes, case law and court rules can provide legal advice. Nothing in this website shall be construed to create an attorney-client relationship.

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