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Holidays With Your Ex

By Jen Uscher
WebMD Feature

After a divorce, you may wonder how best to approach the holidays. Will you go to that party where you’ll see your ex? If you have kids, should you and your ex open gifts together with them, or separately?

Some people hold on to an idealized view of how the holidays used to be, says clinical psychologist Edward Farber, PhD. But traditions you’ve had for years are going to change. To find joy in the holidays, ease your stress and find new ways to celebrate.

How to Avoid Conflict

If you’re getting along well with your ex, it may make sense for the two of you to have one holiday gathering with your kids. But if there's any risk of conflict, Farber says, it’s better for each parent to have a separate holiday celebration with the children.

"It's not the specifics of the arrangement that matter so much as preventing your kids from being stressed, because they are seeing you in conflict with your ex," he says.

Farber also says it’s best to watch how much alcohol you drink at these gatherings. “You want to be able to have a business-like interaction with your ex so that there is no tension in front of the kids,” he says.

Make Plans in Advance

Discuss holiday plans and schedules in advance with your ex to prevent misunderstandings and arguments about who has the kids when.

Also, loop your kids in early, says Karen Ruskin, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Sharon, MA. Let them know in advance who they'll be with and where they'll be going.

“Don't leave it up in the air, because that can cause anxiety,” she says.

Give Your Kids a Voice

Let your children have a say in the holiday plans. Consider their favorite traditions when planning.

“When children have some input about activities and an idea of what to expect, it helps to reassure them and give them a sense of control in the midst of family changes,” says JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, PhD. She's a clinical psychologist in Rochester, NY.

Pedro-Carroll says one child she knows asked if there could be a toy elf on display at both parents’ homes during the holidays. “Maintaining a favorite tradition like that gives children a sense that not everything in their life is changing and some things will stay the same,” she says.

Start New Traditions

Create new holiday traditions to share with your kids, Ruskin suggests. For instance, you could volunteer at a homeless shelter. If you have a young daughter, you could make necklaces together to give to each other or to Grandma. If you have a teen, you could play tennis or go on a hike together. "The key is to take action to make the season special,” Ruskin says.

Reach Out for Support

Remember to take care of yourself during the holidays. “When you get enough rest, eat healthy food, and exercise, you have more patience and more to give as a loving parent,” Pedro-Carroll notes.

Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted friends or family members or to a mental health professional if you’re having a difficult time. “Seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness,” Pedro-Carroll says.

Reviewed on November 18, 2013

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