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Reducing stress during the holidays for families with two homes

How do children who travel between two homes face holidays? These times may provoke intense, emotional responses. As a parent, you play a role in how your children experience holidays and other special days. Below are some practices parents can use to support their children.

Making holiday plans

Co-parents need to decide the location where each child will spend their time well in advance of the occasion. You may want to have your children be part of all family festivities, but if it means an unrealistic amount of travel and excitement, you may want to re-think this plan. If reasonable,  have older children help decide how they spend their holiday time.

When preparing for the holidays, think about the most significant aspects for you, your co-parent, and your children, and plan accordingly. Some families alternate holidays, or have the children spend the "eve" in one home and the "day" in another. The first year may feel awkward or painful, but over time it will become the natural way of sharing the holiday time. 

Here are some guidelines for these occasions:

  • Examine your family traditions. This may be a good time to start new traditions or alter ones that are no longer working for your new family.
  • Allow children’s discussion of memories of past holidays when you and the other parent were together. Invite children to talk about how they feel. You may not be able to "fix" things, but you may gain an understanding of their feelings.
  • Remember that there is more than a "day" in "holiday." Often, most occasions are little seasons unto themselves with celebratory events held over many days. Allow your children to observe different facets of the holiday over more than one day.
  • If you have more than one child, consider occasionally having children spend one-on-one time with parents. Some children enjoy special alone time with their parents.
  • If you and the other parent have remained single, consider bringing the “original” family together for the holidays. If you and your children’s other parent are getting along well, children enjoy having everyone together on some special occasions.
  • Spend enough time with your children so they feel like a priority and know you want to be with them on holidays and special occasions. 
  • Don't let competition between parents become an undue burden for the kids. Trying to outdo each other results in overindulged children and parents who are angry with each other.

If gifts are a part of your holiday, you may want to consider talking with your kids about gifts they can give to others. Here are some examples:

  • Personalized coupons for a fun activity together.
  • Having your child come up with a new tradition for a special occasion.
  • Breakfast in bed or a meal together.

Remember, it’s important to teach children that giving is not about the monetary value of the gift, but the thought and sentiment behind it. One example is if your child is going to a celebration with friends or family they are not familiar with, you may want to help them make a dessert or a side dish to share and help ease the unknown situation.

Family transitions bring many changes that stand out during this time. At first, it may feel like things will never be normal again. However, with time and attention, you and your family can create new rituals and routines that will feel good for everyone.

Author: Minnell Tralle, former Extension educator

Reviewer: Ellie M. McCann, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2023

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