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6 Tips from a Columbia Therapist for Surviving the Holidays in a Divided Family

From Sharing Special Days to Working Through Holiday Stress, Check Out These Tips from a Columbia Therapist on Surviving the Holidays Post-Divorce

After having children and spending several years of your life together, the holidays after a divorce are guaranteed to feel uncomfortable and complex. On one token, you are filled with anger and resentment for your ex-spouse but are also interested in ensuring that your children have a positive holiday season. Raising children with an ex-husband or -wife can be extremely  difficult to navigate and add stress to an already demanding holiday season. At Psych Associates of Maryland - the leading Baltimore & Columbia therapist - we know the toll that the holidays can take on a family, which is why we’re here with 6 tips for surviving the holidays in a divided family. From mastering your holiday planning to tips for working through holiday stress, we’re here to provide you with potential solutions for keeping holiday conflicts to a minimum.

Put Your Child First

Embrace Compromise During Holidays in a Divided Family 

child with fighting parents

First and foremost, it’s important to remind yourself that you need to put your child first. When dealing with the stress of the holiday season, it’s easy for emotions to run high and lead to arguments, heartaches, and bitterness. But it’s important to remember that your child is the priority here, and to ask yourself whether or not your choices - be them in the agreements with your ex or and emotional expressions - are in the best interest of your child.

When in these situations, a number of compromises will have to be made and you’ll likely have to make compromises. While dealing with your ex and having to sacrifice time with your child can be aggravating and unnerving, it’s important to put on a brave face for the sake of your child. Not only will your child feel the tense energy or experience the fighting that occurs, but feeling as though his or her parents cannot get along will indefinitely taint the joy of the holiday season. In this case, take a moment to swallow your pride for the sake of your child and work for a compromise.

Learn to Approach Your Relationship Differently

A Columbia Therapist Recommends Parenting Like a Business Partnership

divorce papers

One of the best ways to deal with co-parenting is to think of it as a business relationship rather than a parenting relationship. In business, you are often tasked with putting your emotions aside to find a meaningful compromise, all of which must be done in a level-headed, solutions-driven manner. Colleagues speak to one another with respect and compromise in mind, which can be a valuable skill to possess when tasked with one of the most complicated professions: being a parent.

This is not only a valuable skill for the holidays but in a long-term relationship with your ex. Being able to put emotions aside and thinking of co-parenting as a job that must be done creates cordial exchanges that keep your child out of the middle. 

Plan Holiday Schedules Early

Get Ahead of the Conflict with Detailed Planning

child with fighting parents at christmas

One of the best ways to avoid conflict within a divorced family during the holidays is to lay out a clear schedule far in advance. Whether you plan each year at a time, three years at once, or make plans for the long-term of your divorce, having a plan creates a clear expectation of what the holidays will look like and allow for planning to fall into place. Not only should you arrange where the child will be for each holiday but arrange pick-up and drop-off times to avoid schedule conflict and interpersonal conflict. Ironing out details well in advance allows you to make sure you can make the most out of holiday planning while minimizing conflict. Also, if something pops up and a schedule gets delayed, do your best to keep a level head. Obstacles like traffic and minor emergencies occur, so practice flexibility in these cases.

Consider Multiple Solutions for Sharing Time

A Columbia Therapist Suggests 4 Sharing Tactics

family at chirstmas dinner

While none of these time-sharing solutions is perfect, a Columbia therapist thinks it’s important to consider all possible solutions when ensuring both parents get a chance to spend time with their child over the holidays. We’ve outlined four primary ways to share time over the holidays, all of which should be considered when planning out a holiday co-parenting schedule:

  • Every Other Holiday: One of the most popular ways of sharing time involves alternating which holiday each parent gets to share with their child. If one parent has Thanksgiving, the next will have Christmas, and then it’s back to Parent 1 for New Years. This is often a fair solution that many parents use but can lead some parents to feel they are missing out on certain holidays altogether.
  • Half Days: Another popular way of sharing holidays is to split the day down the middle. On Christmas, for instance, a child would wake up at one parent’s house and around 2:00pm would switch to the next parent’s home for the evening.
  • Alternative Days of Celebration: This method is not only utilized by divorced parents but by people in the healthcare industry and those who work holidays. Instead of feeling pressured to celebrate Thanksgiving on a specific day or hosting your Christmas party on Christmas Eve, consider having your celebration on another day. While this can feel like a big compromise, it will allow you to celebrate the holiday to the fullest without having to worry about sharing time with your ex. 
  • Holidays Spent Together: While difficult, spending time as a unified group is one of the best ways (in many cases) to tackle holiday time sharing. By opening presents together on Christmas or sharing Christmas Eve dinner, your child will be able to see their parents putting in the effort to make the holidays special.

Remember the Holidays are a Full Season

Avoid Getting Hung Up on a Single Day for Celebration

people ice skating

If you find that you don’t get your way despite no matter how much you try to compromise, it can be disheartening. As a coping mechanism, a Columbia therapist tells clients to remember that the holidays are an entire season and not just a single day. Make the most of the season by finding ways to celebrate in the days and weeks leading up to the holiday, remind your child that there is so much more to the holidays than a single day spent together.

Talk to a Columbia Therapist About Your Stress

A Columbia Therapist Can Help You Manage Holiday Stress in a Divided Family

woman talking to a Columbia therapist

We know that holiday stress can feel like a burden, especially when you throw a complicated relationship with an ex into the mix. To manage this stress, consider talking to a Columbia therapist. Able to give you completely objective guidance to maneuvering this complex time of year, a Columbia therapist can help you vent out your frustrations, develop skills to confronting conflict, and help you find ways to make the most of the holidays with your children.


The holidays as a divided family aren’t easy. For help dealing with the stresses of the season and more, get in touch with Psych Associates of Maryland for talk therapy and more.

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