The first year following a divorce can bring with it numerous challenges, especially around the holidays. While they do bring joy and celebration, the holidays can be a stressful and demanding time for any family. Financial strain and family demands can contribute to the stress, but a divorce can send some people over the edge.

Next to a death, grieving the loss of a family unit due to divorce can be the hardest time. Often times, the effects of the divorce do not truly settle in until parents are forced to make a holiday parenting plan and the kids realize they will have to split their time between parents. The reality of not being with your children for all of the holidays you are used to can be softened through careful planning and other tactics:

– Prior planning can help prevent loneliness or anxiety – One of the most difficult parts of divorce is traditions being broken. This is especially pertinent around the holidays as so many rituals and traditions will need to change. First, understand yourself that a tradition equals structure and that you will feel strange and sad when that familiar structure is broken. Second, explain to your kids that traditions are wonderful, and you will take the opportunity to build new ones. Let them contribute ideas and have fun planning new traditions as a family.
– Get creative with your parenting plan – Being honest about what’s important to you is the key to crafting a solid parenting plan and giving your children structure and confidence. You and your spouse will need to alternate holidays to find what works best – staying flexible and open-minded in the process will make the situation a lot more civil and will allow you to get creative. Getting along will ultimately benefit everyone.
– Don’t isolate yourself – Don’t stay alone when the children are with your spouse; reach out to friends and family and plan the time for yourself. While you may feel like being alone, sometimes surrounding yourself with loved ones can make you feel less lonely. If you are not near any family or friends, volunteering is a great way to spend the holidays around people and in the holiday spirit as well as to remind yourself that there are people less fortunate than you that can benefit from your time.
– Give your children the OK to enjoy themselves – You should ensure that your children do not feel guilty or strange about enjoying themselves when you’re not around. The divorce process has been trying enough on your kids, the last thing you would want is them worrying about the parent they aren’t with. The first holiday season should be all about experimenting with what works and creating new traditions, and this can be joyful in its own way, too.
– Avoid a financial disaster on top of everything else – Divorce is an expensive process and can leave your bank account reeling from the financial blows. Seeing as the holidays are a trying time for staying on budget, making an extra effort to do so will help you maintain composure and control. Do not try to buy your kids love or outdo your spouse! If your finances aren’t in the best shape, try starting a new tradition where you and your kids make gifts for one another and coordinate with your spouse so that you both give equal gifts. It’s important to work as a team during this time and think of your children’s best interest – they didn’t choose to get a divorce, you did.
– Stay healthy – Not only will you set a good example for your children, but you will feel better. Eat well, exercise regularly, and maintain a social life. Overindulging can be dangerous during the holidays, especially coupled with emotional duress. If you feel like you need someone extra to talk to, reach out to support groups or schedule an appointment with a therapist. There have been people who have done this before you and people who will go through this after you; you are not alone and things will get better with each year.