Holiday Tips for Divorced and Separated Families

Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.

The holiday season can be the most stressful time of the year. Being separated or divorced can create additional stressors and challenges during the holidays. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Here are some tips to help families living in separate homes navigate the holiday season.

Recognize and Honor Kids’ Feelings
Whether you are newly separated or have been divorced for years, keep in mind that your children may still have strong feelings of grief and loss. The holidays can be an especially tough time because it’s a season when families come together. homes sweet homesChildren may be feeling upset about having to go back and forth between different homes during the holiday or having to spend the holiday season without one of their parents. Use care in deciding how the holidays will be split between you and your ex. Try to alternate different holidays or work with your children and ex to determine a schedule that works best for everyone. Regardless of how you arrange your schedule, kids still may feel sad or angry during this season. Affirm kids’ feelings by acknowledging them.

Create New Traditions
When families separate, traditions they used to do as a family tend to fade. Help your kids heal by creating new traditions for the holidays. There are lots of fun, seasonal things you can do during this time of year. Here are some examples of traditions you can start:

  • Gingerbread_house by tcr25 via wikimedia commonsCutting down a live tree together
  • Making holiday cookies
  • Decorating gingerbread houses
  • Driving around to look at holiday lights
  • Getting up early one weekend morning to go shopping together
  • Buying seasonal drinks and walking around town or a historic area
  • Going sledding or skiing together
  • Attending a holiday concert

If you live in a bigger city, you can check out the visitors’ bureau for holiday events. If you have new family members, such as stepparents, stepsiblings, boyfriends, or girlfriends, try to involve them for some added bonding.

Give Choices When You Can—Help Kids Feel in Control
Try to involve kids in planning, decision making, and creating new traditions in any way that you can. Giving kids choices will help them feel like they have a say in what’s going on and make them feel more in control. Even small choices can help ease kids’ anxiety and give them more buy-in.

What tips do you have for divorced or separated families during the holiday season?

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Suggested Resources
Divorce Is Not the End of the World: Zoe and Evan’s Coping Guide for Kids by Zoe Stern and Evan Stern
Smart Girl’s Guide to Her Parents’ Divorce by Nancy Holyoke
The Step-Tween Survival Guide by Lisa Cohn and Debbie Glasser, Ph.D.
What in the World Do You Do When Your Parents Divorce? by Kent Winchester, J.D., and Roberta Beyer, J.D.

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About Danielle R. Schultz

School Counselor blogger for Free Spirit Publishing Blog
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