The Christmas season is always a time to fit in as many family functions as possible. Many families have relatives come to town from all over. It’s a busy time for everyone. All families have to prioritize their time. With divorced parents, those priorities can be a struggle. When parents are divorced, the holidays can become a game of shuffling the kids around from one parent’s house to the next.  Add in the stepparents’ family functions and there’s always somewhere else to be.

I grew up living with my mom and stepdad and seeing my dad and stepmom a few times a year.  My dad and his wife always came to visit at Christmas so there was a lot going on. Going from house to house could get a bit hectic sometimes but it didn’t make the holidays any less enjoyable.

Here are a few tips for parents and stepparents alike to make Christmas as painless as possible.

1. Be civil. Whether you’ve been divorced one month or ten years, Christmas can be a time of stress. For your children’s sake, try to get along with your ex-spouse and his or her significant other. Kids can always sense the tension between their parents. Commit to being kind (or at the very least, polite) to your former spouse. If you have a somewhat friendly rapport, it makes the children more comfortable. A civil relationship with your ex also makes it easier for your children to accept their new stepmom or stepdad.

2. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s an old expression but it still rings true. If you speak badly about your former spouse, you’re speaking badly of your children’s mother or father. Whatever feelings of resentment you have towards your ex-spouse, don’t share them with your children. Remember, it’s Christmas. Don’t make your kids uncomfortable at the dinner table by bringing up old hurts and arguments. Your dislike of your ex-spouse’s new partner is not appropriate dinner conversation.

3. Establish a routine. Every year the kids will need to be in various places to celebrate Christmas with all sides of their families. If it’s at all possible, help your children adjust to the new family situation by creating a pattern for every Christmas season. If Christmas dinner has always been at their grandma’s house, talk to your ex-spouse about keeping it that way. Decide how you can integrate the needs of new partners or spouses too.

4. Make new traditions. Giving your children a sense of normalcy doesn’t mean you can’t make new Christmas traditions. Both parents need time with their kids. You don’t need to cram every single activity into either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Try having a game night with the kids on the 23rd and lunch at the other parent’s house on the 24th. Fun activities, even new things, can be a good way to put your children at ease.

5. Be patient.  No matter how old your kids are, it will take time to get used to the new set-up of the holidays. Try to understand what your children are going through. Divorce is a huge change for parents, but it can be even more jarring for children. Try to make the transition period after a divorce as comfortable as possible. It will be an exercise in patience for parents to stay in each other’s lives for their children’s sake.

When a couple has children, they are tied together forever – divorce doesn’t change that. Over Christmas, put your kids ahead of the busyness. After a divorce, Christmas isn’t the way it was before, but the importance of family remains a key part of the season.

Written by Jami Peterson