Dealing with divorce over the holidays

Nov 27, 2012 at 1:00 p.m. ET

Dealing with divorce is hard enough without trying to navigate the holidays. Get through the holidays without a post-split breakdown.

Don't go it alone

If this is your first holiday since the split and your ex has custody of the kids this time, don't spend the season alone. Rely on family and close friends to help you get through this tough time, suggests Susan Saper Galamba, divorce and family law attorney, author of Don’t Burn the Underwear and media personality. She adds, "Making plans to be with friends and family is essential. Surround yourself with positive people during the holidays and don't dwell on the divorce."

Maintain traditions...

Melody Bacon, Ph.D., chair of the Marriage and Family Therapy Programs at the Irvine, California branch of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and author of the upcoming The Grace Filled Divorce, says it's important to maintain some normalcy for your children by keeping things as familiar as possible.

She says, "Try to maintain traditions that you have established with your children, within reason. For instance, if your children have typically spent Christmas day with your in-laws and their extended family, perhaps you can allow them to spend at least part of the day. Or you can spend Christmas Eve with your kids and allow them to go with your ex to see his family on Christmas day. Splitting time during the holidays is important to keep harmony and consistency in your children's lives as they adjust to the divorce."

... And create some new ones

Silvia M. Dutchevici, MA, LMSW, president and founder of Critical Therapy Center in New York, agrees with keeping some traditions for your children. But she suggests creating some new ones as well.

She says, "Think about this first year after your divorce as a chance to celebrate the holidays in new ways. Keeping certain traditions — like opening presents on Christmas day or lighting the Chanukah candles — is important for feelings of family continuity and security, while incorporating new traditions of your own gives everyone the feeling of a new beginning."

It's OK to cry

Dutchevici also suggests giving yourself and your children the opportunity to cry and express feelings. She says, "Allow yourself and the kids to mourn. A divorce is difficult on everyone, even in cases where the couple feels that this is the best course of action."

She continues, "Acknowledge your own feelings about the divorce and allow your kids to express their concerns and feelings regarding the first set of holidays since the divorce/separation."

Communicate with the ex

Open the lines of communication with your ex for the sake of your children this holiday, suggest Alan Plevy, family law attorney, and Kathryn Dickerson, civil litigation and child custody attorney at SmolenPlevy in Virginia. They advise, "Work together on scheduling exact times, etc. Talk about gift giving. Take your ex's desires into consideration when choosing a gift (i.e. don't get your child a puppy if they spend equal/more time at the other parent's house and the puppy can't go with them)."

More on dealing with divorce

How to talk to your kids about divorce
How to make divorce less traumatic for kids
Helping kids understand divorce