When you are divorced with kids, Christmas and Hanukkah can become minefields that make previous family headaches look simple. But there’s good news: There are a number of steps that you can take ahead of time to make things better for everyone involved.
It pays to go into the holiday season with a plan. This year, I’m offering three helpful tips that will allow you to do just that.
- Remember and enshrine the idea that the holiday isn’t about you. It’s about making it calm, fun, and memorable for your kids. First, work out the parenting strategy in advance, and let the kids know what is going to happen and when. Make sure you don’t convey to the kids that you are going to be lonely without them. Figure out what you’ll be doing, tell your kids, and let them know that you will have fun and be fine—and that they should have fun and will be fine with the other parent. Kids pick up on emotions very easily and tend to feel responsible for a parent’s happiness in divorce. There is a pretty general standard plan when dealing with Christmas parenting time, assuming the kids aren’t either infants or basically-grown-up teenagers: One parent has the first half of school vacation and Christmas Eve, and the other parent has from either late Christmas Eve/noonish on Christmas Day and the rest of the vacation. Usually, this switches annually, so both parents have a shot at the primo time, which tends to be Christmas morning.
- Try to set a budget with your ex. It is never a good idea to have one parent able to give expensive gifts, with the other forced to try to emulate. If you can’t set a budget, at least aim for reasonable parameters.
- Ask the kids what they want. Have your ex ask the kids what they want. Then talk with your ex and divide the list up between you. Even if you or your ex are really pressed for time, in the age of Amazon Prime, there seems to be nothing you can’t buy online and have delivered.
Also, try to split the list, so that the gifts are given in the appropriate order. For instance, if a child is getting a camera, give the camera at the first Christmas and all the accoutrements at the second. Another good thing, especially with smaller children, is to give items that will help them organize the two houses. These can include calendars, markers, two sets of clothing, and maybe a cute duffle with their initials to transfer what they don’t have at both places. If they have electronic devices, make sure to give them two sets of chargers and earbuds, so they are never without. It is much better if you can afford to minimize the amount of stuff your child has to transport back and forth. Duplicates are good.
There is no shortage of insight as to how divorced parents can make this special time of year happy for their kids. As in most situations, the most important thing you can do is be prepared ahead of time and fulfill your number-one job as a parent: Make sure your kids feel loved.