Helping Your Child Cope with Holiday Transitions and Split Family Homes

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The holidays are pretty much a stressful time for everyone. If you Google holiday stress you get over 2 million results. And it isn’t just parents who feel these pressures. Kids-especially kids with split-family homes-pick up on their parent’s feelings during these times, which is why it is especially important to manage your own stress as well as the anxiety your kids may be feeling this holiday season. None of us want our kids to have the same stressful holiday experiences and memories we had, but all too often we unconsciously create new kinds of holiday stress for the ones we love the most-our children.

To have a joyful holiday there are three big items you need to shelve this holiday season-shame, blame, and perfectionism. According to researcher and author Brene Brown, shame and blame are the chief stealers of joy, and perfectionism is a one-way street to despair.

“Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect.”

“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Shame and blame are super tricky characters in homes with divorced parents, especially when holiday stress is added to the often already tough dynamics. But they are, I believe, the primary reasons holiday stress has 2 million results. After 13 years of holiday transitions as a split-family home here are some tips I have learned that help everyone hold onto an authentic joyful spirit this holiday season.

Techniques for a smooth and happy holiday

Be the person you want to be no matter what the other parent is doing. Try really hard to not blame for one holiday season and see if you don’t feel better. Remember, we have to be the kind and compassionate adults we want our kids to be, and we have to embody those traits during the hardest of times sometimes.

Bigger isn’t better. Don’t compete with gifts and don’t buy gifts out of shame or guilt you may feel about your kids going back and forth. Your present to yourself-and your kids- this holiday should be to let any guilt or shame melt away into a hot drink, like a marshmallow in a yummy hot cocoa.

Don’t stress the mess. Holidays are breading grounds for emotional and actual mess. Be ok with a little messiness. Go outside and get some fresh air every time you feel the urge to immediately perfect something-whether it is a kid having a breakdown or a messy kitchen, you deserve a little break before deciding how to handle it. 

Smooth out transitions and travel from home to home. Making sure kids are rested and prepared for transitions and travel makes for happier kids, which makes for happier adults. Kids feel safer and more in control when they know what’s happening, so if possible, let them have a say in holiday planning and input on celebrations.

Be the rock for your kids and step-kids. Remember that it is harder for them than for you and our job as parents is to be the best role models we can be. Even if you might be sad about being alone, your kids don’t need to know that. They need to be able to enjoy their time without worrying about the other parent. When you are without your child, that’s a great day to take care of yourself! 

Treat yourself to a day of total relaxation. Kids should be able to easily contact the other parent free of stress. Try making a daily time to call or Skype the other parent. If the kids are older, make space for them to have private conversations with the other parent.

Make sure you get or make gifts for the other parent and their family if that’s been a tradition. Giving is a good way to hold onto joy.

Co-parenting is really hard. So, ask for professional help when needed. Sometimes we need to have adult supervision for the adults too!

Christine Bronstein
Tinybeans Voices Contributor

Christine Bronstein, a mother of three children, is the author of the Stewie Boom! series, founder of both A Band of Women (social media site), and Nothing But The Truth Publishing. Her writing has been published on, in The San Francisco Chronicle, and on Maria Shriver's website.