Post-Divorce Parenting: Putting Kids First During the Holiday Season

The holiday season can be a stressful time for parents. There’s pressure to buy the perfect gifts, keep the budget in check, and make the most of time spent with friends and family. For families who’ve experienced divorce, though, the holidays can be even more difficult.

For children of divorce, every significant event can magnify the fact that their parents are no longer together, and holidays are no exception. Perhaps more than any other time of the year, holidays shine a harsh light on any family’s imperfections.

Coparenting after divorce requires both partners put their children’s needs first and help them accept the changes they’ve undergone.

With the help of parenting expert Dr. Fran Walfish, I’ve outlined some tips to make the holidays easier post-divorce.

Respect Your Ex

Dr. Fran Walfish, child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, suggests that divorced parents remain mindful of of the readjustment period that children experience each time they transition from one setting to another. This means working together as a co-parenting team, communicating, and above all else, avoiding the impulse to argue. “Suck it up for your child’s sake. Be courteous, polite, and respectful to your ex.  If you can’t be friendly, be benign,” she says.

“Be courteous, polite, and respectful to your ex. If you can’t be friendly, be benign.”

See Things from Your Child’s Perspective

Another difficulty of post-divorce parenting is spending time away from one’s child during the holidays. Separation can amplify feelings of loss and grief and lead to emotional problems, insecurity, and even depression in children. That’s why it’s critical for parents to see the situation through their children’s eyes.

“She may miss Mommy when she’s at Daddy’s house. Don’t take this as a personal rejection, but rather be empathetic to your child’s fantasy wish to have her family together,” Walfish says.

Don’t Break up Holidays

“It is extremely hard for the kids to go back-and-forth between Mom and Dad’s two houses,” says Walfish. She recommends not trying to divide one important day into two parts by expecting children to go to both residences. Instead, she says, “Assign a full chunk of time to each parent.”

Create New Traditions

As difficult as it may be, try to focus on the positives in the situation. Use it as an opportunity to create new traditions with your family, and get your child’s input in this process.

Most importantly, get the support you need as a parent. Communicate your feelings to a close friend or family member. As Susan Stiffelman wrote in an essay describing how her family handled a holiday post divorce, “It’s possible to discover that after divorce, life really isn’t over. It’s just different.”

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