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These 5 Things Will Help You Survive Your First Christmas Post-Divorce, Say Experts

Co-parenting during the holidays isn’t for the faint of heart.

A woman sits alone in her home during the holiday season.

If you're going through a divorce or are recently divorced, the holidays can add even more stress and intense feelings to an already stressful and intense time. Add to that being a parent, and the holiday season is no doubt challenging as you navigate schedules and splitting time between households — not to mention the overwhelming emotions that come up with not spending as much time with your kids as you'd like, including not doing the holiday things that you would love to do with them.

"Traditions die hard, and making new traditions can be challenging if you aren't ready to live separately," Nicole Sodoma, divorce attorney and author of Please Don't Say You're Sorry, tells Scary Mommy. "Developing new traditions requires creativity, a lot of research, and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. If divorce is new to you, you may find yourself learning how to be alone for the first time."

For her first holiday season post-divorce, Sodoma said she surrounded herself with her support system and community but admitted she was very unprepared for her first holiday season post-divorce. "But remember, it's just that. Divorce can be a season just like any other if you are prepared emotionally. Have compassion for yourself and be patient during this time. The sun will shine again."

Below, Sodoma outlines her tips on how to survive and thrive during the holiday season when you're divorced.

Collaborate on a holiday schedule.

Even if you are the one who sought the split, Sodoma says the first year after separation can be the most difficult, "but then you learn to adapt and evolve."

She recommends collaborating on creating a holiday schedule that is fair and considerate to both parents and, most importantly, in the best interest of the children. Yes, even when it's hard to muster up the energy to speak to the other person.

"Be willing to negotiate and compromise, keeping the focus on what will make the holidays special for the children," she says. "Keep in mind exchange times and places that are easiest for the children. If the children are spending a significant portion of the holidays with one parent, ensure the other parent has the opportunity for quality time before or after the specific holiday dates. This will help maintain a sense of connection and shared experiences."

Over time, as routines and expectations are established, Sodoma says the holiday season should become more manageable for everyone involved.

Create new traditions.

While it's easy to get in your head about the loss of the holiday traditions you've always shared as a family, a great way to approach your first holidays post-divorce is to create new traditions.

"Holiday plans and the pivoting of traditions can be scary if you let them be," says Sodoma. "It's important to remember that holiday traditions are not the only traditions that exist."

If you are co-parenting, but not amicably, Sodoma recommends planning ahead with your best coping skills to focus your attention on what the children need and not what you need, with the emphasis being on fun and creating new memories and experiences. She also points out that "the parent who has the children for Christmas Eve (or the first night of Hanukkah) won't have the children for New Year's Eve, so break out the confetti to bring in a new year."

Whether or not you have children, she suggests organizing Friendsgiving gatherings, sporting events, ornament exchanges, white elephant gift swaps, or a good old-fashioned girls' night out with some of your besties to ensure you're having fun, too.

Get your gift-giving strategy right.

According to Sodoma, gift-giving can be challenging during the holiday season if you are not effectively co-parenting.

"Are the children asking both parents for the same thing? Did you already buy the toy that the other parent had promised? Does Santa come to both houses? And what do you do about that mischievous elf?" she says. "The answers to these questions for all families can be different, but an underlying common denominator should remain: determining what is best for the children so they are impacted the least."

Sodoma recommends creating a shared note on your iPhone or a shareable Google Doc with your ex, or just having the kids create separate lists for both houses. "The key here is maintaining open and honest communication about your gift-giving plans," she explains. "Discuss budgetary considerations, especially if you both plan to contribute to bigger or joint gifts for the children."

Lean on your emotional support system.

While the tendency might be to retreat into your lone wolf cave during the holiday season, Sodoma says you will need your support system now more than ever. "Friends are a vital source of emotional support during the holiday season for those recently divorced," she says. "Surrounding yourself with a supportive community can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Having activities already planned is one way that can give structure to the holiday season, provide positive distractions, and allow for anticipation and excitement."

She advises talking to friends or family members, especially those who might be going through a similar situation. "Plan activities or gatherings to fill the void and create new traditions. Choose events wisely, opting for those that bring genuine joy rather than obligation."

Focus on your own healing.

For those recently divorced, the holiday season can be a time for self-compassion, sadness, and healing. Sodoma recommends incorporating self-care rituals into your daily activities, which will contribute to your overall healing process.

"Mindfulness practices such as meditation and journaling can help manage stress and provide a sense of grounding during the holiday hustle," she says. Have a support system in place and plan activities — maybe even something out of your comfort zone. Active mediation has always been a winner for me. My first holiday without my children, I traveled and spent time with my brothers, constantly challenging myself to do things that gave me space to think."

She also adds that "it's OK to scale back on festivities or to take a break from certain traditions to focus on self-care during this time, too." After all, you've been through a lot this year, and your biggest gift to yourself ( and your kids) is your well-being.