11/25/2010 06:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Holiday Parenting Tips: Creating a New Normal for Divorcing and Separated Parents

As if the holidays weren't stressful enough, they present additional challenges for separated, divorced and divorcing parents, especially when the separation has just happened.

There are 3 things at work:

• Holiday Anxiety in General
• Adapting to Changes in Your Family
• Missing Your Children

Holiday Anxiety: Even the smoothest holidays are stressful. There's cooking, cleaning, shopping, entertaining, parties and school vacations. That's a lot of stress, even if it's fun stress. How to manage?

Adapting to Changes: Your life is undergoing a lot of changes. Some are negative, and some are positive, but the bottom line is that your world may feel a little upside down at times. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself time to adjust.

Missing Your Children: No matter how generous your parenting time schedule, you'll be seeing your kids less this holiday season because for most separated and divorced parents, holidays are shared. Either you get your children part of the time, or not until next year. Either way you're missing your children and redefining how to celebrate the holidays. That's a big undertaking.

How do you get through the season without losing your sanity and putting your children first? Here are a few tips:

• This kind of stress is normal
• Give the gift of benefit of the doubt
• Make a plan and stick to it (here's some tools:

This kind of stress is normal! Let's face it, the holidays were stressful last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Holiday stress isn't new.

Divorce and separation is a lonely process. Former friends may shun you. Family members may express disappointment--or worse--making you feel even more alone. Reach out for help. Talk to a divorced friend who's successfully navigated these waters, join a support group, online divorce chat group or talk to a therapist. Feeling connected will help you manage your feelings of loneliness. Don't suffer in silence.

The best gift you can give this season is the benefit of the doubt. This is Key #4 in my new book, Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010) and it's my favorite one. Especially at holiday time, people are going to run late and things are going to go wrong. Although they've let you down, they probably didn't do it on purpose. Letting go is a gift to yourself.

Making a plan for the holidays, and stick to it. Plan every child exchange and special event with your co-parent weeks before the season arrives. Set realistic goals and start and end times. Pin it down and put it in writing. Give everyone a copy. Have a Plan B in case Plan A fails. 10 tips:

Make plans for yourself, too. If there are special days when you won't be with your children, make plans with friends or plan to volunteer. Don't delude yourself into thinking a Thanksgiving TV dinner will be fine. It won't be. Even if your plans are spending the day alone watching a Match Game marathon or shaving your favorite team's logo into the side of your dog, have a plan or a project that you'll enjoy.

The bottom line is that the holidays can be difficult, and you'll get through it. Some solid plans and flexibility when things go awry are the best gifts you can give your kids this year.

Diana Mercer is an attorney-mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, as well as the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010) and Your Divorce Advisor (Fireside 2001). You can read her blogs at the Huffington Post and