Holidays can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Throw in a separation or a divorce, and you’ve got the ingredients for misery. But child psychiatrist Julius Earle Jr., MD, has tips to help fractured families better cope through the holidays. Dr. Earle is with Prisma Health’ss Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Medicine.
- Avoid competition. It’s too easy for the holidays to become a challenge, to see which parent can buy the most stuff, the best stuff, or the most expensive stuff. You and the other parent have to make sure this doesn’t happen to you and your child. Setting up a competition like that takes the focus of the holiday away from your child and spending time together.
- Love your child first. During the holidays, you need to love your children more than you hate your ex-spouse. The holidays aren’t about getting even with the other parent; they are about finding joy and being together for the sake of your children. Be an adult and put the needs and desires of your children above your needs and desires, and you and your children will have a Christmas that will be filled with seasonal spirit and love.
- Discuss gifting with the other parent. You can meet with the other parent for coffee, talk about what your child wants or would like as gifts and divide up the list so you’re not duplicating each other and know what the other is buying. If you have a hard time sitting down and talking in person, do it by email. Make sure you agree neither of you will talk about what the other is buying (it’s not unheard of for parents to try to hurt each other in this way). Also, don’t take this information and then go buy more and better things than the other parent is buying.
- Set limits on gifting. The spouse who buys the big gifts often does not realize he or she is hurting the other parent and thinks that, if it makes the child happy, it must be a good things. However, if you’re the spouse who doesn’t splurge, you might end up feeling like you’ve failed your child or she will love the other parent more. Neither of those things is true at all, but, to avoid this situation, it’s a great idea for you and your ex to set a dollar limit on how much you’re each going to spend. This doesn’t have to be a rigid set amount. For example, you could agree on a range you will stay within.
- Stay focused on what is important. Try to focus yourself and your child on the fact that the holidays are not all about gifts. Spend time together doing holiday things, such as crafts, going to services, visiting Santa, going to a concert, decorating your home, baking, watching Christmas specials and so on. It’s also important to remind your children that giving is an important part of the event. Take them shopping to buy a small gift to give the other parent. Let them wrap it themselves. Remember that when your children are grown up, they are not going to remember who gave her the most, but instead will remember the happy holiday times they spent with each of their parents. And give of yourself… now is a good time to volunteer at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc.
- Make the most of the time you have with your children. It won’t be possible to share every moment of the holiday with your children. That doesn’t mean you can’t make the most out of the time you do have with your children. Start building new traditions with your children in your home. Make the holiday about the time you are able to spend with your children and not about the time you are not able to spend with your children.
- Involve your children in decision-making. During Christmas and on other special occasions, give your children some control over how they spend their time. This can be especially important for older children. They may be scheduled to spend time with the non-custodial parent when they would rather be hanging out with friends. Give your child the option of bringing a friend along or planning activities with friends during their time with you. Take advantage of holiday visitation, but allow your child to have an active role in planning any activities you will be doing together.
- Practice kindness. Don’t allow your family members to denigrate or pry into what goes on with the other parent or at the other parent’s house. It is understandable and OK to be sad about the divorce, but don’t be nasty, judgmental or blaming of the other parent in front of the children.
- Don’t stress yourself out before/during the holidays. You need to be your strongest, most relaxed self during the holidays in order to support children going through their own stressful times. Get enough sleep, good food and set limits while being open with your heart. Don’t blame, gossip or do more than you can afford in any way.
Find more tips for de-stressing your December on our Healthy Holidays microsite.
Last reviewed 12/2017