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Tips for divorcing parents on dealing with holiday stresses

The holiday season is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the special love and affection that family members have for one another, but for families that have recently gone through a divorce or are anticipating a divorce, the holidays can add extra stress to an already difficult time.

We recently read a column by a family therapist who urges parents in those challenging situations to make a concerted effort to communicate with each other and help their children have an enjoyable holiday season.

Dr. Michael Rubino writes that in his more than two decades helping teens, younger children and families, he has learned that one of the most important things for divorcing parents to understand is that they are the ones who made the decision to divorce, not the kids. He also notes that even though divorce might be imminent, or has even been finalized, “the parents are not done fighting with each other.”

Far too often, parents use the holidays as an excuse to continue disagreements and to try to hurt each other – often in ways involving their children. “What they forget,” Rubino writes, “is they are really hurting their children more than each other.”

To avoid this pitfall, he says parents need to make an effort to talk to each other about what their children enjoy most about the holidays, and also to reach out to the kids and ask them about what they enjoy most. After the information is gathered, have a civil discussion about how you as parents can help your kids “to do what they enjoy most about the holidays.”

Discuss, too, how the children can have equal time with both parents, as well as with grandparents and other members of the extended family.

He also urges parents to avoid turning the holidays into a competition. Don’t try to outdo each other with gifts; instead, talk over a gift-giving approach that won’t make one parent a star at the expense of the other.

Finally, he writes that as difficult as it might be, figure out if you can spend time together as a family during the holidays. And if you can’t do that, regardless be kind to one another in your actions and comments – don’t give in to temptation to score points or settle old scores.

The holidays present an opportunity for divorced parents to show their children how to deal with difficult times and stress with grace and generosity.

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