How to Survive the Holidays Without Your Kids

Filed under: Divorce & Custody, Holidays, Single Parenting

dad leaving home

Kidless during the holidays? You don't need to feel down in the dumps. Credit: jupiterimages

Just a holiday season ago, you might have been waiting for your children to go to sleep so you could fill their stockings, put out the presents from Santa Claus and take a few bites from the carrots they so lovingly left for Dancer and Prancer.

This Christmas Eve, though, the kids are with your ex. After all, you have to take turns. Now it's just you, the TV and those classic Christmas movies, which remind you that you're alone. You always loved watching "Miracle on 34th Street" before. It was part of your family holiday tradition. This year, the characters makes you weep, but not in a good way. There is no joy, just painful memories.

Being a noncustodial parent hurts. Being one during the holidays can be even worse.

"There are things you can do to anesthetize the wound," says family therapist Susan Stiffelman, who writes "Ask AdviceMama" for ParentDish. "But don't try to fool yourself, it's going to hurt. When it's the other parent's turn to have the children, there can be the added sadness at the sense of loss of the family that used to be intact."

One way to lessen the pain is to avoid complete isolation and, most importantly, surrounding yourself with caring friends and family members.

"While there's nothing wrong with a good cry and feeling your grief, it's important to stay connected with life and loved ones," said Stiffelman.

Jodi Seidler, a single mother and creator of, suggested noncustodial parents find ways to help others. She recommends volunteering at homeless shelters, helping abused and neglected children or performing other charitable acts. Singles parents can find volunteer opportunities at

Volunteering enables parents to start new holiday traditions that they can look forward to in the future. Many nonprofit organizations need volunteers to play Santa, Mrs. Claus or an elf, which gives divorced parents a chance to interact with other children the way they do with their own little ones.

Noncustodial parents should also let others know that they're free on the holidays. Families and friends might have an extra place at their table or in the church pew, but may not know what you have planned, Stiffelman said.

Regardless of your new traditions and best efforts to avoid depression, you will likely feel sad. Whatever degree of melancholy you're experiencing, it's important to remember that it's not your children's fault.

"If and when you speak to your children over the holidays, try to emphasize when you will see them again and how happy you are to talk to them without imposing your sadness on them," Stiffelman said. "Kids feel guilty when they're having fun with one parent while the other is depressed and alone. Don't try to pretend you're all smiles, but do your best not to overload your kids with guilt about enjoying themselves."

And, experts agree that you can give yourself a present or two.

"Treat yourself to tickets to a concert or play, or spend the day in a part of town you never visit," Stiffelman said. "By exposing yourself to new experiences, you will not only be less reminded of your children's absences, you'll have something special to talk about with them."

Related: Are We Doing This Parenting Thing All Wrong?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.