Holiday Tips for Divorcing Families

  1. Make a detailed holiday plan and keep the children informed of the plan. Planning and predictability helps children cope with the often-intense emotions and expectations of the holidays.
  2. Be open and flexible. Although it is important to have a detailed and specific plan, changes are inevitable so don’t adhere too rigidly to your plan.
  3. Make early travel and logistical arrangements and provide the other parent with a copy of the travel itinerary and emergency contact information. This avoids last minute confusion and significantly decreases risk of conflict.
  4. Include the children in making the plans. If the children are old enough, include them in discussions about the development of new, post-separation holiday traditions, but make sure they understand that the final decision making is up to the parents.
  5. Create space for the children to describe their holiday experiences at the other parent’s home while still respecting their privacy and avoiding interrogation.
  6. Create new holiday traditions. Even though the family structure is now altered, invite the children to work with you to help create new personalized traditions while still honoring the old traditions.
  7. Holidays are not the time to introduce new romantic partners or other emotionally charged information such as a move.
  8. Make pick-ups and drop-offs conflict free. Avoid the temptation to discuss separation or divorce issues with the other parent during holiday drop-off and pick-up times as tensions are heightened and the children sense this.
  9. Email communication should be brief and focused. This is especially important during the holidays. Limit emails to one topic using one paragraph of five sentences or less and send no more than two emails per day, absent an emergency.  Keep the focus of your emails on the children and try not to repeat yourself.  Make sure emails are between the parents, not significant others or step-parents.
  10. Give yourself a break. Holidays can be stressful in the best of circumstances.   It is to be expected that you will struggle with difficult feelings and behaviors.  Do your best to parent cooperatively and put the children first but understand there is no right or perfect way for divorcing families to manage the holidays.

Adapted from Kids First: What Kids Want Grown-ups to Know about Divorce and Separation by Peg Libby (AFCC Ask the Experts).