One of the selling points that I often hear parents tell their kids about the upside of divorce is that they will be getting two Christmases. In theory, that is great news. In reality, it sucks. The holidays are already stressful, everyone has plans, and there is nothing worse than having to keep checking the clock to see when you have to gather up the kids and go meet your ex somewhere. Your kids don’t want to go, you rush dinner, and occasionally they don’t even get to open their presents.
Having done this for over ten years, both as a stepparent and a family law attorney, there are a few tips and tricks I can give you to hopefully make things run a bit smoother.
First and foremost, get a plan and write it down. You will not believe how many times people “get confused” as to what they agreed to. You and your ex need to either follow your parenting plan to the letter, or you need to agree on times and locations for the exchanges in advance and in writing.
You might also want to communicate with your ex and decide who is buying what for the children. If one parent is buying an X-Box, the other might want to buy a few games (and allow the kids to take them to the other parent’s house – these are for the children). You also want to be on the same page with your ex if something like a cell phone is being purchased and expected to go to both homes.
Next, be logical. I know you want your kids as much as possible over the holidays, but it is their Christmas as well, and their time should be maximized to allow them to spend time with both sides of the family. If your family does things on Christmas Eve and your ex’s family does things on Christmas day, then you should try and see if the kids can be with you on Christmas Eve and your ex on Christmas day. It serves nobody well to keep them simply because it’s “my time”.
You also need to be logical about the exchange time. Kids do not want to have to rush through opening presents on Christmas morning, then pack, get in the car, and drive to an exchange at 9:00 a.m. That sucks for everyone. I get that everyone wants to open presents with their kids on Christmas morning, but the reality is that everyone will have a better time if not rushed, and kids don’t mind if they open presents at noon.
You also need to be punctual. I get that you have a lot going on, but the reality is that you need this to go as smooth as possible for the kids, and that means being respectful of your ex’s time with the children as well. I do not recall a single Christmas since law school where I have not been on the phone that morning with someone upset that their ex is late bringing the children to the exchange. It puts off their entire day, makes extended families wait (or worse, proceed without the kids there), and can sometimes lead to pointless litigation.
Holidays change after divorce. They changed when you got married. This is a part of life.
However, it is your job as a parent to make this as good for your children as possible, and that means teamwork and planning, even if you hate your ex.
Side note: I am not going to get in the car and drive to find your children Christmas morning. Calling me is a waste of time and money. Call me on Monday or shoot me an email, and understand that the Court isn’t going to modify a parenting plan because your ex was 30 minutes late exchanging the kids. That being said, don’t be a jerk. Show up on time.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, enjoy yourself and take time for yourself as well. This is especially true if this is your first Christmas as a single parent. It will be emotional. You probably will cry at some point. It is never easy to say goodbye to your children on holidays, but you will get through this. Buy a nice book you’ve been wanting to read, watch Die Hard (best Christmas movie ever), or do whatever relaxes you and allows you to decompress.