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Holidays and Divorce: Do’s and Don’ts

Several months ago I wrote an article, The Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Children Adjust to a Divorce, for BCBSM to include in Metro Parent and various other publications. Now that it is December, I’d like to revisit the article and apply the information in the context of co-parenting during the holiday season … and share it here with you!

December image


  1. Discuss with your ex beforehand on what the plans for the holidays will be.  If holiday parenting time isn’t already explicitly laid out in the divorce agreement (or if you are wanting to make some adjustments to it), make sure you and your ex communicate about the arrangements early.  Coordinating plans and avoiding back-to-back holiday feasts or duplicate gifts will decrease the chance of having overwhelmed, stuffed, cranky, and stressed out kids.
  2. After the plans are solidified with your ex, share the holiday plans with your children, so that they will know what to expect.  Make sure you keep your word and also listen to their concerns and feelings about the schedule.
  3. Be flexible and patient.  Working together as a divorce family can be one of the best presents you could give your child!
  4. Establish new traditions with your children.  This is especially important for families that have recently experienced the divorce.  Include your children in the process of creating these new traditions.
  5. Celebrate together … if possible, try to preserve an old holiday tradition together.  Remember to do this only if you can get along with your ex.  Feuding parents for the season will only bring more stress for you and your children!
  6. Talk to your kids and your ex about what worked out (and what didn’t) after the holidays are over and begin to make plans for a smoother holiday season next year.


  1. Leave it up “in the air”.  Make sure to organize the details of times, location, travel, etc. in order to have a smooth holiday.  Also, remember to include discussion with extended family in the plans.
  2. Argue in front of the child, even over the phone. Try to set aside disagreements in the presence of the child.  Do your very best to embrace the spirit of the holiday season!
  3. Constantly quiz your child about what they are doing, or have done, over at your ex’s or ex’s family house.  This really puts the child in the middle and sets up a competitive feel (rather than cooperative) between parents.
  4. Compete with your ex.  Trying to “out-do” each other with gifts or special events can lead to tired, overwhelmed children who will learn to put an emphasis on the “getting” part of the holiday season.  Buying everything the child wants because you feel guilty, or in an attempt “one-up” the other parent, will only increase unhealthy behavior patterns for the child.
  5. Become inconsistent with discipline. Do your best to maintain rules and structure within each home (even if they vary) to help prevent long-lasting behavior issues.  This can be tricky during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but inconsistency will only lead to bigger problems.
  6. Put off getting additional help.  This time of year can be difficult for so many.  If you or your children are struggling with depression or if you notice changes your ability to work, their performance at school, difficulty in caring for yourself or your child, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional for yourself and/or your children.


References/Related Links/Helpful Resources

Managing Divorce and Children During the Holidays

Children, Divorce, and the Holidays

Surviving the Holidays While You’re Surviving a Divorce

Children of Divorce List their Holiday Do’s and Don’ts

Win-Win Holiday Visitation Schedules

Laura Hutchison photoBy Dr. Laura Hutchison, PsyD, LP, Adjunct Faculty at MSP

Along with being an adjunct faculty member at MSP, Dr. Hutchison has a private practice specializing in children and play therapy in Farmington Hills.  She is a mom and a blogger.  You can find her blog, PlayDrMom, at http://blog.playdrhutch.com.




photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani via photopin cc