DETROIT (CBS Detroit) With traditional Christmas images everywhere of mom, dad, two kids, a puppy and dozens of shiny presents nestled under a sparkly tree, it’s not easy when your family story looks different from that.

Managing custody issues between divorced parents, especially during the holidays, isn’t easy.

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“Emotions are running high, but if you have to fake it until you make it, that’s a great tip.”

That’s advice from  Birmingham divorce attorney Jessica Woll, who with Kelly Lindsay of support group CARE at North Ridge Church, sat down with WWJ’s Brooke Allen to talk about how to weather the holidays after a divorce.

From what could be considered opposite sides of the spectrum, they have the same basic advice: “Do what’s best for your child. That might mean going out and buying … your ex a present, going with your child and letting your child pick out something special for mom or dad, that’s great to do. Maybe sharing a tradition because kids want nothing more than to be with both parents during the holidays,” Woll said.

“If you can give that gift to your children, that’s amazing.”

Four million divorced parents have to share their children during the holiday season so keeping the kids in the forefront can be considered a cornerstone for successfully managing the season.

  1. Always place the child’s needs first. What will create a happy holiday memory? That could mean taking your child out to buy a gift for your ex.
  2. Be flexible. A holiday parenting schedule that was mandated for a pre-schooler may not be right for a teenager.
  3. Share your children with aunts, uncles and grandparents on both sides, and make the holiday child-centric. The experts advise inviting people from the ex’s side of the family over for a joint holiday gathering so there doesn’t have to be so much interaction between former spouses but the kids get to see everyone.
  4. Start a new holiday tradition. “It’s different for every family, what we did is Christmas day tends to be my holiday and they go with their dad on Christmas Eve,” Lindsay said. You should also hang onto old traditions whatever they are in your house — cookies for Santa, a book you read, etc.
  5. Control your own emotions of bitterness and anger. If you can’t, then fake it ’til you make it.
  6. Plan, communicate and follow through. It may be well in advance of the holidays, but remember the goal is to stay out of court — which is stressful — and to make sure your child is happy, healthy and well adjusted. When you decide to have a child, you’re also making the decision that your needs and wants are secondary.

Basically, the key is to put aside adult grievances and bitterness for the sake of being child-centric.

Put your own emotions aside for the sake of children. That applies to everything, from deciding who gets children on which days to whether you approve something — like a trip — with the other parent.

Think about the child, and only the child, and your holidays will be merry.

“It’s not always easy, that’s for sure, a lot of dynamics happen … that brought the divorce about,” Lindsay said. She added that kids needs to feel secure during the holidays, a time of year that can provoke anxiety for them.

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“It’s all this back and forth and the kids never truly feel like they have a home anymore … It’s important that some kind of normalcy is there for the kids,” she said.

Renee, a mother of two young sons who went through an unfriendly divorce, said consistency and maintaining a routine is key for the holidays.

Perhaps the biggest key of all is to make sure no one bad mouths the other spouse in front of the kids.

“Whatever they tell me (they do) with their dad, I say ‘it’s wonderful, it’s great,’ Renee said. She added her rule at family parties is that no one can talk about the divorce, or her ex, in front of the kids.

“They will never hear anything negative about their father come from us,” she said.







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