Christmas is often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year. However, when you have experienced a separation, divorce, or are in the process of blending a new family together, Christmas may look a little different and may not always seem so wonderful. Mom and Dad may be in different homes trying to decide which one of them the children will wake up with on Christmas morning. There may be a new stepmom or stepdad that brings with them children of their own. So, how exactly do you acclimate to all of these changes while still making sure that your children experience the joys of a family Christmas?
Keep it Child-centered
The most important thing to remember is to keep your children at the center of all your holiday decisions, rather than your own feelings. Despite how you and your former spouse feel about one another, do your best to enjoy the time you have with your child(ren) and create new memories. If you still have little ones, this may mean that the two of you spend Christmas morning together, for the sake of the kids. It may also mean that you arrange for the children to wake up on Christmas morning in the house they are most comfortable in, for consistency or sentiment’s sake. Little ones just want to see you both happy (separately and together) and be assured that Santa can locate them at either house.
Communication without Competition
Clear communication is important in any relationship, whether you are under the same roof or not. Take time to discuss your child’s wish list together and determine what each of you will buy, setting spending limits as necessary. Do not try to outdo one another on gifts or time as this puts more stress on the child to choose sides. It’s not one parent’s job to fulfill all of the child’s Christmas wishes, it is their job to ensure their children enjoy a healthy and balanced Christmas. Also, keep in mind, this new situation is different for everyone, including grandparents. Do your best to include grandparents when purchasing gifts and making arrangements for visits. That family will always be family to your child, regardless of the relationship between the two of you, so it is important to respect that dynamic.
Create a Consistent Schedule
Planning ahead, and having a consistent schedule each year can help the holidays to flow more smoothly. However, you may need to keep in mind not everyone is a natural planner, and may find yourself needing to extend a little grace as needed. When creating your schedule, decide who will have your child on Christmas Eve and where they will wake up Christmas morning. Set times in advance for drop off and pick-up and stick to them. It is important to be respectful of one another’s time and the time you have with your children. According to Dr. Alan Ravitz at Child Mind Institute, “How you divide up the holidays depends on the age of the kids. Before children are 4 or 5 years old, what they’re going to primarily respond to is the emotional tone of the situation, so what matters is what feels fair, to them and both parents. Kids from 5 to 10 or 12 are pretty literal, so they might be most comfortable spending equal amounts of time with each parent.”
Keep it Traditional – Old and New
It is no secret that routine and consistency bring comfort to children. Maintaining childhood traditions during the holidays can aid with that comfort. There may be times you have to get a little creative with the way you celebrate, or even blend old and new traditions together. Do your best to let go of ideals and high expectations, and accept the new norms that come along with your new family dynamic. Your children want your time, love, and attention more than anything else. (There are some fun suggestions for ways to create new traditions with your children in the sidebar.)
Keep Yourself Busy – Fill the Time
Make plans in advance for the time the children are away. When you are not caught up in decoration and assembly, arrange an evening celebration with friends. Take the time to visit grandparents, or family members you don’t often see. Use that time to give back by volunteering at a nursing home or shelter. Sign up to ring the Salvation Army bell and encourage others to fill the red kettle (this is a fun family idea as well). Enjoy the quiet before the chaos, and grab your favorite carry-out meal and watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see.
Regardless of how you decide to spend the holidays, remember to put your personal differences for the other parent aside, so that your children can create happy, long-lasting memories.