Surviving the Holidays with Separated Parents

Holidays can be the best of times or the worst of times.

And holidays with separated parents can be especially difficult.

Tyler said, The most difficult part of any holiday for me is being rushed between my parents' houses. I feel bad about leaving one parent for the other.

How many of you have had to eat two turkey dinners in one day? Or have you heard one parent complain about the amount of time you spent at the other parent's home? Here are just a few of the issues that are unique to those of you who are spending your holidays with separated parents:

  • Parents picking up where they left off criticizing the other and trying to recruit you to their side.
  • Parents spending money they don't have, trying either to work off their guilt or to buy your affection.
  • One parent getting offended because you spent one-half day longer with the other parent.
  • Opposing families arguing about where you will go and when.
  • Your Christmas plans being dictated by some legal document.
  • Anger about what the separation has done to your holidays.
  • Never having a choice in what happens or where you have to go.

Just when you think things can't get any more complicated, separated parents remarry and then you have to deal with all the "steps" - stepmother, stepfather, stepbrothers, stepsisters, and even step-relatives. I read about one couple in their second year of marriage. Negotiating their holiday plans with their separated and remarried parents became so stressful that they had to see a therapist to cope with the pressure.

Anna wrote: The most difficult part of Christmas is spending it without my father and his family. I don't know any of my mother's family, so gatherings are extremely awkward. Holidays are just all around lonely and depressing for me; I just don't find happiness in them anymore.

Even though the holidays can be really tough, I want to give you some ideas and ways to make this year's holiday better. You may not get to decide where you spend the holidays, but you can have a positive impact in other ways. You can survive this!

Here are 5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Separated Parents

Stephanie wrote: Probably the most difficult part of Christmas for me is seeing how much things or life in general have changed from one year to the next and how things can never be as they once were.

  • Get ahead of the competition. Make your Christmas list and encourage parents to go in together. In other words, try to reduce the competition between them. It may sound good at first having parents competing to buy your loyalty or to make up for what the separation had done to your life. But the extra stress between separate parents is not worth the extra stuff.
  • Set some boundaries. The rules and boundaries for those of you with separated parents can get really crazy, especially when it comes to the holidays. A boundary is like a limit or a protective fence around yourself. An emotional boundary protects you from the negativity of warring parents. For instance, you can say, "I am not going to listen to, or participate in conversations that run down the other parent." You can also physically create a boundary by walking out of the room when negative talk erupts.
  • Change your focus. Instead of dwelling on how terrible the holidays are with separated parents, several listeners commented that the most difficult part of the holidays for them is being aware of people who have far less. Even when family members can't find anything to agree on, they can always find someone they can all feel good about helping. If you dread the Christmas holidays because they are so materialistic or because they highlights aspects of your family that anger or depress you, try this: Start a new tradition by getting as many in your family as possible involved in doing something for someone less fortunate. There are lots of ways to do this - serve a meal at a homeless shelter, bake cookies for an elderly neighbor, write letters to our military soldiers who won't be home for the holidays, and more. Even if your family doesn't want to do it with you, just your own service to someone in need will change your whole perspective.
  • Take care of your health. Because the holidays can be so emotionally stressful, you need to be mindful of your own health. Depression can set in when everything around you is in chaos and out of your control. Download TheHopeLine eBook on depression so you can be informed and have practical ways to cope. Exercise is great for increasing endorphins - the feel-good chemicals in our brains. Sometimes just going for a walk can lift your spirit and clear your head.
  • Spend time with friends.

Even though you are obligated - or court-ordered - to spend the holidays with your separated parents, make some time to see your friends as well. Even if it is just a phone call, a friend can make you laugh or give words of encouragement. And if a friend is not available remember our HopeCoaches are available 24/7 to chat online with you. Sometimes just venting to someone about the stress you are feeling can really release a lot of the anxiety.

Just know that I am thinking about you during the holiday season. TheHopeLine and I are here for you. We know you can make this holiday the best one yet!

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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One comment on “Surviving the Holidays with Separated Parents”

  1. I think this is some great advice. But I should suggest, divorce is different for everyone. So some peoples parents may be civil, others may hate each other! So the best thing, if your parents hate each other, you should let them be and try your best not to interfere with the other parent! I am not trying to bash this article, it's just a suggestion💞!

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