Family Law Library

Ten Tips For The Holidays

Ten Tips For The Holidays – by Dr. Robin Deutsch, Psychologist

1. Have a very specific plan for the holidays so there is no opportunity for confusion or
conflict. Parents may alternate or split holidays, but when there is disagreement about
this plan, consider the longer view of alternating holidays by even and odd years.
Holidays are often a time of heightened emotions, and the reality of the loss associated
with separation or divorce is no more apparent than when parents must spend a holiday
without their children or without old traditions.

2. Try to continue traditions of the past for the children. If they are accustomed to
spending Christmas Eve with one extended family, try to continue that tradition, if not
every year then in alternate years. Parents should consider maintaining some of the
family traditions the first year after the separation, and alternating beginning the
following year.

3. If you can continue some traditions together, make them clear, attending to details of
who, what, where, when, and how. Some families are able to be together without
conflict arising, but parents often have different expectations about the experience itself,
as well as the amount of time they will be together. The most important thing for the
children is that they do not experience conflict between their parents.

4. Create new traditions that feel special to the children and family. This is an
opportunity for the new family configuration to establish new traditions for the holidays
including creation of a special holiday celebration or experience on a day other than the
actual holiday. It is also an opportunity for the adult who does not have the children, to
establish new practices such as time with friends, volunteering, movie days, and travel.

5. Think long-term—what do you want your children to remember about holidays when
they have their own children? For children, holidays are magical. It is often the little
rituals and practices that are most memorable, such as baking a pie, playing a game or
lighting the fire.

6. Remember, children’s memories include all senses—what they saw, heard, smelled,
tasted and touched. To the extent possible, create a memory that involves each of
these senses and describe it, e.g. we always listen to this music, eat cranberry sauce,
watch this movie, read this book, take this walk, and cut these branches. Do not allow
conflict to enter into these memories.

7. Self-care is very important. Life for the adults has significantly changed. Find new
ways to care for yourself, e.g. exercise, friends, books, movies, clubs, martial arts,
dance, classes, activities that bring new energy and attention. You want to rejuvenate
yourself and refocus on something to help you reconstitute yourself in your new life.

8. Keep your expectations small and be flexible. Focus on one thing that matters most
to you during the holidays, e.g. some sense of connection to your family, having some
time with extended family or close friends, creating a new tradition, continuing a
tradition. Your holiday time will not be the same, but you can decide that you will have
one small goal that you will work toward creating or preserving. Holidays may be
accompanied by unmet needs and dashed hopes. By thinking small you can manage
disappointment and decrease stress.

9. Though you, the parent, may feel disoriented and lost in the changed family, keep
your focus on the children and the new family constellations. Make the holidays about
your children, which means helping them to feel good about spending holiday time with
the other parent.

10. In ten years or twenty years, what do you want to see when you look back on these
years of change? From that long view you can highlight the tone and experience of
these transformed holidays. Remember, children who find holidays stressful because of
the conflict between their parents, have terrible memories as adults of holidays and of
special family moments. It is in your hands to create fond, pleasant memories for your
children. They can be traditional or not, but the message is that you and our family are
important and we find ways to celebrate and enjoy holidays.

Full attribution to Dr. Robin Deutsch provides consultation, mediation, parenting coordination and expert
witness services in Wellesley, MA. She developed and was the director of the Center of
Excellence for Children, Families and the Law at the William James College. Previously
she was an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. Dr.
Deutsch was the co-chair of the AFCC Child Consultant Task Force. She served on
both the AFCC and APA task forces that developed Guidelines for Parenting
Coordination, the AFCC task force for Guidelines for Examining Intimate Partner
Violence and the AFCC task force for Court-Involved Therapists. She is the past
president of the Massachusetts chapter of AFCC, past president of the AFCC, and
former Chair of the APA Ethics Committee.