When we think of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, everybody wants it to be a special time, especially for the children. Creating healthy memories is something we all want to do.

Unfortunately, holidays are an especially stressful time for many families due to frantic busy-ness, crowds, and long lines in stores. On top of all this is anxiety about potential family conflicts. All too often, despite our best intentions, there's a blow-up, with our children right in the middle of it.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Are there practical steps we can take to make things go more smoothly?

There are.

Consider stress during the holidays in general. Some of our stress comes from our inability to say no to people. We allow others to determine how we use our time. It may be unnatural for us to be assertive, but it is sometimes necessary for the sake of our sanity.

Determining what is important and setting goals are elements of a successful career. The same holds true for navigating the minefield of a busy holiday season. Thoughtful planning, including finding time for yourself to recharge, is a part of getting through the holidays.

The holidays can be especially draining for those who are newly divorced or are in a long-term co-parenting relationship. Instead of looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, many divorced parents dread the approach of these seasons because they know there will be fighting at some point regarding how to divide time with children. They know these are supposed to be happy and memorable occasions. What they don't know is how to achieve that.

I've observed that lack of planning is one of the primary causes of holiday conflict when co-parenting. To avoid butting heads over child-custody matters, think ahead. The time is now to plan rather than at the last minute when you are both harried with holiday busy-ness. Review your co-parenting agreements so you both have a clear understanding of what is expected. Sometimes, one or both of you can imagine you remember what you agreed to three years earlier, but in the heat of the moment, when he or she fails to bring the children to Grandma's house at the time expected, it may be due to a different recollection of the agreement.

Good communication is always helpful in mitigating conflicts - especially so with regard to preparing for the holidays.

Finally, do your best to maintain a sense of humor. Try not to take yourself too seriously. Psychologists have learned there is truth to the ancient proverb, "A merry heart is good medicine." Negative attitudes not only bring us down, they also do nothing to change our circumstances.

May your holidays be especially meaningful this year.

Jessica L. Sterle is a family law attorney in Duluth.