The holidays are almost here again, and it’s time to look at some of the rules regarding holiday timeshare, and how you should handle things with the kids:
1. Traditions must change
I firmly believe that it’s important for families to have traditions. It’s part of what brings us together and builds a bond between us. But once a divorce or separation occurs, the previous “family” no longer exists. Step-families may form. New relatives may enter the picture. While it may have been true that Christmas Eve was always spent at Grandma Betty’s, that probably can’t happen anymore, at least not every year. And it probably shouldn’t. Maybe it can only happen every other year. Maybe it won’t happen ever again. Things must change. Worse, parents will often use traditions as weapons: “The kids have spent Christmas Eve at Grandma Betty’s for the past five years, so I have to ‘get’ them on Christmas Eve every year.” Divorce and separation are times of change. Traditions must change, too. Start making new traditions. Introduce them slowly, but allow the children to know that, as the family changes, traditions will change. And make sure you let them know that they can be part of the change. Allow the kids to help you think of new traditions. Make it an exciting time for them.
2. It’s about the kids, not you
I hear so often that “it’s important for the kids to wake up at my house on Christmas morning,” but do you think it’s so important to the kids? Realize that kids just want to wake up and play with toys, and it’s a whole lot less important to them where they wake up after Santa has come than it is to you. Brace your self for this, but for kids, at least younger kids, Christmas is about Santa, and a whole lot less about you. And don’t be so quick to rush them over to your house on Christmas day if they wake up at the other parent’s house on Christmas morning. You want to pick them up by 10 a.m. or so so that you get “your fair share” of the time, but what they really want is to play with their toys. Give them a little time with the other parent and their new toys before you wisk them away. Consider delaying the pickup until mid or late afternoon. Or, if it’s a long drive to your house, here’s a radical thought: maybe just alternate Christmas with the other parent altogether. That’s a tough way to go because you wouldn’t see the kids at all every other Christmas, but think about what’s best for the kids.
3. On the other hand, the kids are not in control
Don’t ever ask the kids where they want to spend their holidays or who they want to spend them with (or, for that matter, if they want to spend timeshare–holiday or otherwise–with the other parent). It’s not their decision until they turn 18. You’re the parents. The two of you will decide and will tell them where timeshare will be spent, and children should never be put in the position of having to decide between parents.
4. Coordinate gifts with your ex
If the gifts aren’t of the type a child would normally have at both parents’ houses, like a bicycle or a computer, check with your ex to make sure the two of you aren’t duplicating gifts. Nothing is more disappointing to a child than to receive the exact same dollhouse or guitar from both parents just because that’s the gift the child has been asking for. Actually, there is a bigger rule here: get along with and communicate with your ex. I know this can be a tough one, but it makes life so much easier on you and the kids.
5. DON’T BE SAD!
I know this is easier said than done for a lot of people, especially people who are recently divorced. You’ve spent the past twelve or so holidays as a complete family, then this year you have no one. In the meantime, your recent ex is dating your boss because “he makes double what you make” or a stripper who is twenty years younger than you, and they’re going to Aruba for Christmas (and yet the child support is three months late). But, somehow, make this the best holiday ever for the kids. Make this the year you finally go back up north to visit the family. Make this the year you go all out on the tree. If money is tight (like it is for everyone), then spend lots of time with friends who have kids, buy a cheap camera and take your kids on a nature walk, buy a bunch of inexpensive crafts or a cheap gingerbread house at Wal-Mart and make those with the kids. If you live in a city in Florida like me, there are tons of free outdoor movies, symphonies, rock concerts, and all kinds of things to do in December. You have children! What could be more wonderful? Make your kids happy, and how can you possibly be sad?