Who’s Home for the Holidays? Helping Children Cope After Divorce

The holidays we celebrate this time of year are very family centric.  Unlike the 4th of July or Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukah, and Christmas are as much about families and their traditions as they are about anything else.  For children and teenagers with divorced parents, this means that the holiday season can cause more than just a longing for the latest gadget or toy.

As every TV commercial shows some version of a happy family sharing time together, this time of year can highlight the feelings of loneliness and abandonment your child is already experiencing.  While the first holiday season after a divorce is usually the hardest, the pain and sadness of being apart at this time of family togetherness is common long after the dust of that first year settles.

Here are some tips and strategies for helping your family navigate the holiday season with less stress and more joy.

1.    Plan Ahead

Make a plan with your ex-spouse that provides the best holiday experience for your children.  As part of the planning, ask your children how they would like to spend their holidays.  For some, it may be very important to spend time with both parents on special days like Christmas Day.  For others, spending time with both parents is important, but which days or times matters less.   Make sure that the children will have an open line of communication with both parents throughout the season regardless of where they are on any given day.  Talk to your ex-spouse about gift giving and agree to joint gift giving, spending limits, or whatever arrangements works best for your circumstances.

2.   Talk to Your Children

Talk through the plans for each holiday with your children so that they know what to expect and can voice any concerns or frustrations.  Let them know that you want to hear their opinions and welcome their input as you all work together to have the happiest holiday season possible.  Discuss where you will be spending each of the major holidays, how transitions will take place, and what choices the children can make themselves.

3.   Discuss Traditions

For many families, the holidays are full of family traditions and losing these treasured activities can be hard on children.  However, it is not always a good idea to try and replicate cherished memories when one of the key participants is no longer part of the household.   For some families, these traditions can be comforting to the children as a reminder that some things haven’t changed.  For others, it is too painful to participate because it reminds them of how much better things were before the divorce.  Take time out before the holidays to talk through your family traditions with the kids and decide which to keep, which to retire, and what new ones you want to start this year.  The most important thing is to get them involved in the decision.

4.   Focus on the Spirit of the Season

Although it may be hard to see sometimes, traditionally, the holidays are about gratitude, sharing, and giving to others.  Take time each day as your family prepares for the holidays to talk about all the good things in your lives and seek out opportunities to help others.  Volunteering and giving back to those who have less than us is not only a wonderful way to celebrate this season, it can also help bring joy into our own lives.



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