Five Tips for Making the Holidays Less Stressful for Separated or Divorced Parents

The holidays are here, and with the season, a certain amount of family stress is expected.  However, if you have a child and are recently separated or divorced from your child’s other parent, understanding and helping the stress your child will undoubtedly feel during this time is important.  For you, it may be a sense of relief to not be sharing the holiday with your former spouse and their family. If you are the child, though, the holidays can bring confusion and a sense of sadness in not sharing the day with both parents. The following tips can help reduce some of the anxiety, questions, and hurt that your child may be feeling.

  • Avoid Duplication. Avoid trying to duplicate holiday meals and activities to outshine the other parent. While it is nice for a child to be able to spend the morning of the holiday with one parent and the afternoon or evening with the other parent, depending on the age of the child, it can also be exhausting. Imagine having a big holiday meal in the morning, only to have an equally big meal later in the afternoon.  If you share parenting time for the day with your former partner, consider establishing who will do the main holiday meal and then agree to alternate it each year.
  • Prepare a Holiday Dish with Your Child. Make a holiday dish together that the child can bring to the other parent’s house.  Assuming that you and your former partner can communicate about issues involving the child, if you are not spending time with the child for the holiday or the major meal of the day, request that you be permitted to help the child make a food item to send with them to the other house.  For example, if you have the child in the morning, or the day before Christmas, perhaps make a pie with the child that the child can then bring to their other home.  Showing that the parents can do things with the child that may be beneficial to the other parent helps reduce the stress and anxiety that children sometimes feel about leaving one parent behind on a holiday.
  • Keep your own Emotions in Check. Be careful to make sure your own emotions are in check.  Nothing is worse for a child when they believe that the other parent will be left alone on a holiday. Even if you have no place to go, assure the child that you are going to be fine, that you want them to have a good time, and know that they will.
  • Make the Holiday your Own. Remember, holidays are only a date on the calendar.  While it is natural to want to spend every holiday with your child, be careful not to put too much emphasis on one day.  Be flexible where you can be for the sake of your child.  Your child loves both parents, and developing a healthy relationship with both parents is important.  Thanksgiving does not have to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.  Turkey is available in July as well.  Consider making the holiday your own special day when it is not your parenting time for a specific holiday.
  • Start New Traditions. Finally, consider starting new traditions. This is a new start for both you and your child.  Now is the perfect time to start a new tradition that becomes your special holiday time with your child. Following these simple guidelines can make the holiday less stressful for your child and you.

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About the Author:

Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office and co-chair of the firm’s Family Law Practice. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including as a co-author of the Divorce in Arizona book. She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country. Ms. Pontrelli is also an adjunct professor at The Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, where she teaches the family law class. Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081.