The holiday season can be difficult and stressful for recently divorced families and those going through divorce. During this treasured time of year, cherished family traditions may be altered or lost. Negotiating parenting time can become increasingly stressful for parents over holiday breaks due to pressure from extended family that is not normally felt during the regular school year. Children can feel torn, not wanting to leave either parent alone on the holidays.

Donna Moore, a licensed clinical social worker in Raleigh, North Carolina, shares ten tips to make it easier for divorced and separated parents to navigate through the holiday season.

Stay in the Moment

Emotionally, it is important to put some thought into your holiday season plans so you can make a conscious choice about what happens. Setting expectations for yourself and your children should make the holidays a bit easier. The following five tips will remind you to stay in the moment.

  1. Make the most of the time you have with your children. If you are divorced, it is not possible to share every moment of the holiday with your child.
  2. Create new traditions that your children can look forward to doing with you in your home.
  3. Focus on the holiday season rather than on a particular date.
  4. Celebrate just as you would if it were the calendar date. In approaching it this way your child will be able to celebrate the holiday with each parent during the holiday season.
  5. Share your new traditions with grandparents and other relatives in the family and ask them to participate with you and your child.

Put a Parenting Schedule in Place

Legally, it is important to put a parenting schedule in place for the holidays long before the season begins. If you can, sit down with the other parent to work out and agree upon the details. The following five issues will get you started.

  1. Decide when and where the children are going to eat any celebratory meals so they can avoid being required to sit through two big meals in one day if they don’t want or need to.
  2. Make arrangements to transport the children when they need to shift locations.
  3. If you celebrate a gift exchange with your children, decide if both parents will be there together for that special time or if you will have two separate exchanges.
  4. If both parents have to work while school is not in session, determine which parent is responsible for arranging childcare.
  5. If any out-of-state trips are planned, agree on the details that will be shared with the other parent.

Once you have the details worked out, put them in writing immediately to confirm that you are on the same page and to avoid future conflict over what was agreed upon. Remember, though, that putting the details in writing does not necessarily bind you to those details. Even though you may have previously agreed to a plan, you can still work with the other parent to modify it if something beyond your control has changed. The written agreement should be the “default” if you are unable to agree on modifying the details later.

Most importantly, let your kids know you love them and will always be there for them whenever they need you.

Donna Moore is a collaborative divorce therapist who specializes in healthy divorce recovery for adults and children. Donna also works with divorcing families that include children with autism, assisting them in navigating the new challenges and changes in their lives.