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Divorced Moms’ Guide to Stress Control during the Holidays

The build-up to the holiday season is well underway, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Though the season is ostensibly to celebrate the coming of light into the world (in whatever form that takes in your religious or cultural tradition), it’s often a time of extravagant gift giving, party going, and overdoing in more ways than one. It’s a time of year most people find stressful, and even more so if you’re a divorced mom trying to manage the holidays on your own or navigate new circumstances with your former spouse.

If it’s your first year after divorce you may be struggling to establish new holiday traditions and stressing about how you’ll find the time and money to pay for it all. If you’ve been divorced for a few years, you may have established some new family traditions, but staying within a budget (or not digging a deeper hole this year) may still be a challenge.

Before you run up a balance on your credit cards or tear out your hair in despair this holiday season, try

these tips to keep your spending – and your stress — under control.

  1. Identify your priorities for the season. What’s really important to you and your family about the holidays? Write them down. This list can be a guide as you make decisions about spending and activities in the weeks to come. Some priorities divorced moms have listed include:
    1. Participation in your religious tradition’s services, activities, and prayers for the season
    2. Family meal(s) and special foods
    3. Holiday decorations
    4. Service to others (e.g., serving a meal at a shelter)
    5. Family activity or trip, being together
    6. Gifts, especially for the younger kids
    7. Annual traditions like an ornament exchange, open house, caroling party, or game night
    8. Thank you gifts to teachers, service providers, family members
    9. Breathing room to remember the meaning of the season, or to relax and find moments of peace
  2. Set a realistic budget. If you don’t have any extra money to spend on holiday gift giving or decorations, acknowledge it up front so you can act accordingly. If you have only a little, allocate your funds in line with the priorities you identified. For more ideas on handling your finances during the holidays, check out this article: “Stop Me Before I Spend Again!”
  3. Let go of being super divorced mom. You can’t do it all and still be sane. Even author and researcher Brene Brown, who isn’t divorced, had to let go of super mom syndrome, as she wrote about in a blog post this week. So if sending Christmas cards drains your energy (or your budget), don’t do it. Don’t buy for everyone you know either. Especially if you’re newly divorced, it’s a good opportunity to let go of traditions, spending habits and activities that don’t fit your priorities. If family members or friends expect to exchange gifts, for example, you can let them know up front so there are no hard feelings come holiday time. Keep the conversation brief and to the point; you don’t need to over-explain. While you’re making changes, a good one to include is letting go of the guilt about making changes!
  4. Think memories, not money. Especially with your children, find ways to make memories you will all enjoy. These shared experiences don’t have to cost much and will mean more in the long run than any gifts you give. You might try this with friends and family, too, as an alternative to individual gift giving. Host an open house, ornament exchange, or caroling party. Plan one-on-one outings with friends or relatives where you give the gifts of time and attention rather than money.
  5. If it adds to your stress, let it go. Whether it’s a gift that will break the budget, an event that you’re dreading, or the effort of elaborate decorations, ask yourself, “How important is it?” Don’t add to your stress. If it’s not that big of a deal, let it go.
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