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Newly separated parents: Helping your kids cope at Christmas

Christmas can be a hard time for the children of divorce. A new separation can mean a big change from the traditions they’re used to. We share some tips to help make the holidays an enjoyable experience for them regardless of the circumstances.

single mom having Christmas with son

Maintain normalcy wherever possible

Obviously many things about the holidays will have to change now that you and your spouse are separated. But be careful of trying to start too many new traditions as a way to project the idea that everything’s OK. For instance, flying to an exotic location or totally revamping your usual Christmas schedule isn’t the answer. Though you can certainly pursue those ideas down the road if the kids are OK with them, changing everything right away can leave kids feeling sad and confused. Instead, make an effort to keep everything that can be the same, the same. Serve the traditional meals you know they love, decorate in the way you always have, and attempt to keep their schedule as familiar as possible. Many kids at this time just need to know that everything’s going to be OK. And when they see that not everything about their lives has to change because you and your ex are separated, that can be very comforting.

Keep things civil


The holidays are even more complicated for newly separated families because there are plenty of family gatherings and social functions where you once went to together and where now one of you is no longer welcome. Although your friends and family may want to discuss the divorce or talk negatively about your ex, let them know this isn’t the right time or place to do so. If your kids were to overhear, it would put a damper on their evening. So keep things civil even when your ex isn’t around.

Ask them what they want

It may be tough to give up some control, but if your kids are old enough to have ideas about what they want to do for the holidays, ask them. Present them with a couple of options that will work for you and your ex-spouse, and see what your children think. Giving them a sense of control in the situation can make everything seem a little more manageable for them.

Share in their joy

Seeing your kids go off and have Christmas experiences with your ex while you aren’t there can be upsetting, but showing disappointment or jealousy to your kids won’t make the situation any better. Instead, focus on the happiness your child is experiencing, and let go of any thoughts regarding your ex. The fact is you will have plenty of joyful experiences with them over the holidays, so there’s no need to take away any happiness they get from spending time with your ex.

Let them talk

There is an expectation around the holidays that everyone is supposed to swallow their feelings and just be happy for the good of the whole. When you don’t like a present you’ve received, you smile and say you do. When an irritating relative shows up, you shake his hand and offer him a meal. But at such an emotionally draining time, keeping everything bottled up can be very damaging to your little ones. So make sure they know they can talk to you or your ex about anything. Talking through their feelings will help them get a better grasp of the situation so they can enjoy the holidays as best they can.

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