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15 Tips for Surviving the Holidays During Divorce

How To Manage the Stress of the Holidays

Going through a separation or divorce means giving up the dream of a perfect Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. Adding to the stress of the divorce, is the strain of managing the demands of seasonal events and holiday schedules: school programs, holiday parties, gift exchanges, children's plays, and other special celebrations. On top of that, as a parent, you may find that this time of year stirs up lots of different feelings for your children, as the loss of the family unit they were used to may hit them pretty hard, thus making life even more difficult for you. So, how do you keep your sanity during this challenging time?

To keep things in perspective, stress in check, and children's needs at the top of your holiday list, here are 15 tips on how to keep the holiday cheer alive for yourself and your children:

  1. Take care of the practical stuff so your children do not have to worry about it. Have your holiday parenting time schedule figured out in advance.
  2. If you are experiencing difficulty with your ex-spouse in figuring out the schedule or other holiday logistics, keep the conflict away from the children. Managing the details and the schedule is an adult job, not a job for the children.
  3. Be respectful to your ex-spouse and recognize that the children have a right to spend time with both parents during the holidays. Remember, that time with both parents is good for your children.
  4. Be honest about things that have changed in your family. Let the children know what has changed, and what has not. Do not try to pretend that everything is the same.
  5. Be aware of your own feelings of sadness, anger or loss. Your children deserve their celebrations even if you feel cheated out of yours. Model to your children that life moves forward and you can still experience joy. This will give them permission to celebrate and be joyful as well.
  6. Socialize and share holiday experiences with friends and family. Make family and friends a part of your holiday celebration. People are a good distraction from the past and if you do have a down moment, you will be surrounded by people who love you and can help pull you out of a funk.
  7. Find quiet times to play games and listen to holiday music.
  8. Watch your favorite Holiday movies together, and read your favorite holiday books. No child is ever too young or too old for 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
  9. Maintain meaningful familiar traditions even if they feel different. Your children may not remember the specific details of one year's specific holiday, but year-in, year-out traditions will stay with them for a lifetime.
  10. Create new traditions, and allow the children to contribute to their ideas. The idea is to “shake things up” and do something different. Any past seasonal behaviors that were once wonderful but now dredge up negative emotions can be done away with and replaced by new and exciting activities.
  11. Allow the authentic feelings to arise in a natural way. If your child is sad, do not try to talk them into feeling better. Let them be sad and allow the feelings to flow. Keep the feelings moving.
  12. Acknowledge the loss, but avoid emotional triggers. Try not to pour through old photos or children's ornaments from years ago. This time of year is hard enough without going down memory lane.
  13. Remind yourself of the things to be grateful. If you are having a hard time with this one, check out A Practical Guide to Gratitude.
  14. Do something for someone else. Find a way for your children to contribute to something with meaning. Participate in some form of charity work or activity that means doing something for those less fortunate. You will be teaching your children a great lesson and nothing can make your own situation look better than being around those in a less fortunate situation.
  15. It is not the stuff that matters at Holiday season, but rather the connection. Your time, attention, and emotional presence are much more important to your children than lavish gifts. Create connection for yourself and your children during the holidays and you will all experience the real meaning of the holidays.

Too often during the holidays, parents get caught up in issues like who is buying what or dividing up the holidays. One of the best things you can do for your kids is use this time to rebuild a sense of family. Kids need to know that life will go on and they're going to be okay. While your child's perceived loss of ‘family' may hit them hard during this time of year, if you incorporate the above tips during the holiday season, you can help yourself and your children manage the experience in a healthy way.

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