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Jean McBride, M.S., LMFT

Holidays can be particularly stressful for divorced families. Expectations of family get-togethers when you no longer feel like a family, hectic schedules and visitation agreements, school and religious events where you are likely to come face to face with the other parent all contribute to STRESS. Adults feel overwhelmed and exhausted while children feel like the turkey wishbone, pulled between parents.

Here are some simple things you can do right away to minimize the stress you may be feeling and reorient yourself to a holiday season that is more like you'd like it to be.

For Your Children
  1. Put the kids first. Think about what they need for this holiday to be a good one for them. I'm not talking about things but rather the quality of the time you are with them. For example, children do best with consistency. Try to keep parenting schedules the same. When that isn't possible, prepare your children ahead of time. Help them know what to expect.
  2. Don't make rules about where gifts must be kept or played with. Put yourself in your children's shoes. Would you like it if you received a gift that you loved, only to be told you must leave it behind when you move from one house to another? Give your gifts with no strings attached.
  3. Keep your children out of the middle. No matter what!
  4. Stay out of the "competition game" with the other parent.
  5. Help your children make or select gifts for their other parent. By doing this you model thoughtful, generous behavior. If you cannot participate in this experience, find another adult who is in a more neutral position, to help.
  6. Allow children to discuss past holidays if the subject arises. Children's memories are not subject to divorce.
  7. When grandparents and other extended family have been part of your children's world, keep them involved during the holidays.
  8. Reassure your children through your words and actions that everything is going to be OK. No guilt trips when they are scheduled to spend time with the other parent.
  9. The two best gifts you can give your children are your loving attention and the opportunity and freedom to love their other parent.

For Adults
  1. Take good care of yourself. This is said so often it is almost worn out. The fact is, it is still important. Keep the old standbys in mind: eat right, get enough sleep, exercise, limit caffeine and alcohol, and remember to laugh.
  2. Get extra support. Enlist the help of friends and family. Join a support group or schedule a meeting or two with a therapist if you're having a hard time.
  3. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Holidays can be tough when you are newly separated or divorced. Stuffing feelings doesn't make them go away. Learn to identify your feelings and then deal with them. The only stuffing we want this holiday season is in the turkey!
  4. Make plans for yourself if you are going to be without your children for the holidays. For most people it helps to be with other people. Think about what you need and then make it happen. Don't be a victim.
  5. Blend the old ways with new traditions. This may be the year to take a holiday ski trip or go to the beach.
  6. Avoid the trap of spending money on your children as a way to buy their love. Set a budget for gifts and stick to it.
  7. Focus on your children and what they need to have a meaningful holiday.

Jean McBride, M.S., LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist whose specialty is divorce and remarriage. As author, teacher, and family advocate, she has more than 25 years experience in working with families. Jean, who practices in northern Colorado, is President and CEO of the Center for Divorce & Remarriage, Inc. and CDR Press. In addition she is the director of Divorce Transitions, Inc. and serves on the national board of directors of the Stepfamily Association of America (SAA). Jean is editor of SAA’s newsletter, SAA Families. Jean has lectured nationally and internationally for the past 20 years and has given over 300 presentations on the topics of divorce, parenting, remarriage and stepfamilies.

Jean is the author of the book, Encouraging Words for New Stepmothers.