As a child, my brother and I would ride in the back seat of our parents’ station wagon and sing “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house, we go…” We literally would cross a river (more like a creek) and there were woods on the way, so I felt like the song was written just for us (except for the horse part…).
As an intact family, we had one set of traditions to worry about. Christmas Eve would be at Grandma and Aunt Betty’s house. Christmas morning would usually be back at home in Kidron, where the presents awaited under the tree. It was two days full of fun and traditions.
When I married and had my own family, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were generally divided between my family and his. Christmas Eve would still be a Aunt Betty’s (Grandma had gone to heaven by then), Christmas morning and Christmas Day would be at my in-laws. It worked.
When my oldest son was six years old, his father and I divorced. Now we had visitation schedules to worry about. The schedule said “alternate holidays” and that meant that someone’s traditions suffered. That was more than two decades ago, so I don’t remember the details of when J’s dad and I finally figured out that we could divide things up as best suited our various family traditions instead of according to a piece of paper, but we eventually got there.
Today, I’m writing as the wife and mother in a divorced and blended family. I’ve had a lot of years to get it together, and I do some of it right. I’ve also had a lot of years to reflect on where I got it wrong, and I’m sharing both of those with you.
- Be mindful. Your children come first in this. They want to please both mom and dad. if you ask them what they want to do, they’re likely to tell you what they believe you want to hear. Instead, try asking them about their favorite parts of Christmas celebrations. Share that conversation with your ex. Work together to try to find a solution that will allow your child to enjoy time with both sides of the family.
I remember many an early Christmas morning or late Christmas Eve night on the road through snow and ice to meet my ex-husband and his wife somewhere “half way” so that our son could enjoy as many celebrations as possible, including those of his stepfamily. Looking back, it was so worth it.
- Be generous. Your child wants to give both of you gifts on Christmas. I can remember neglecting this because I felt it wasn’t my job to buy something for my ex and his spouse. Perhaps it wasn’t my responsibility, but I regret not doing the generous thing and making sure that my son had something to give to every important person in his life.
If money is tight, help your child create something – an ornament or a plate of special cookies. You may receive nothing in return from the “other side,” and you need to be prepared for that. You’re doing this for your child – not for yourself.
- Be firm. Although I encourage you to be giving and open-minded, don’t be railroaded, either. If sticking to the visitation plan in your court order is what keeps peace in the family, then stick to your guns. Just make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons.
- Be inventive. Sometimes it is just impossible for your child to be included in all of the celebrations. Technology makes it possible for them to be included in your celebration. Facetime, Skype, or Zoom are all great ways for distant family members to be included in any holiday.
- Be courteous. If your co-parent is being cooperative, don’t overreach. Don’t monopolize “their” parenting time with phone calls and Facetime. Keep your calls short and simple. Don’t stir up emotions for your child and leave their other parent to try to calm them. Keep it simple. Keep it positive.
Along the line of “courtesy,” be on time. Your child needs that predictability, and so does your co-parent. You all have plans for this holiday season, and sometimes things need to run like clockwork for everything to happen smoothly. Don’t be allow your failure to plan be an additional stressor for your child.
Remember that once you have created a life with another person, you are linked to them forever. Once your child is grown there are still graduations, marriages, birth, deaths and other important milestones. I was moved to tears when my ex-husband and his wife came to my father’s calling hours to be there for me and our son. We are not close, but we are cordial, and that is what matters. Holidays are an opportunity to forge a different kind of relationship that will help you to be civil and supportive through all of the important times in your child’s life.