’Tis the Season to Share: Tips to Make the Most of Shared Parent Time During the Holidays

December 6, 2018

The holiday season is a time of sharing: We share our time, our talents, joy, and laughter. We share food, treats, and gifts. And as a divorced mother of three, I share my kids with my ex-husband.

The first Christmas I was divorced, the thought of going through any of the holidays without my children was gut-wrenching. I still get that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach when I start planning our holidays and I realize that either Thanksgiving and New Year’s or Christmas will be spent without them. Even though it’s still hard, I have come a long way since that first holiday season; now I have a new blended family, and we’re all learning a new way to share again.

Holiday sharing is difficult for everyone, especially the kids. They are the ones that are rushed and shuffled around whether they want to be or not. In the spirit of sharing, here are four tips I’ve found to make it easier when splitting holiday time with your ex.

Let go of expectations

There is no need to add more grief to an already stressful time of year. Expectations can be a setup for disappointment. The first couple of years, I wanted so badly for the holidays that I had with my kids to be perfect. I wanted Christmas to be magical and Thanksgiving and New Year’s to be memorable. And that came with a lot of pressure.

I learned that everyone had more fun when I was more relaxed. When you focus on what is in front of you rather than reaching for perfection, Christmas is magical. The kids don’t care if the tree is decorated perfectly with coordinated ornaments—what makes it magical for them is decorating it. They don’t care if all the gingerbread men are the same shape and size and perfectly iced—they just want to help bake and do something fun with mom. They don’t worry if their gifts are wrapped perfectly—the magic for them is unwrapping the gift and finding the surprise inside.

When you focus on what is in front of you rather than reaching for perfection, Christmas is magical.

Keep the most important things important: the kids! I have found that children are more interested in the process than in the final product anyway. Let go of expectations and make memories by enjoying the moment.

Focus on the time you have instead of the time you don’t

Knowing that we only have roughly 18 holiday seasons with our kids in our homes is bad enough, but splitting that number in half can rip your heart out. Sharing the holidays has made me re-evaluate the time I have with my kids. Rather than looking at split holiday time as missing out, I try to look at it as a way to appreciate the time we have together even more.

Focus on little things, like cuddling up on the couch to watch a favorite Christmas special. Something so simple can be meaningful holiday time spent together. Normally, if I watch TV with my kiddos, I have my phone or my laptop and I’m multitasking with work and other duties. In fact, the average adult spends over 12 hours per day “multitasking” with some form of media. Full attention and quality time will go a long way toward making your time together significant and memorable during the holidays

Honor old traditions and make new ones

Traditions help define the holidays. For example, I make German pancakes with buttermilk syrup for breakfast on Christmas morning every year. It just wouldn’t feel like Christmas to us without that breakfast. When I first got divorced, in my quest to create the “perfect” holiday for my kids, I wanted to keep everything from changing. However, no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t the same.

Knowing that we only have roughly 18 holiday seasons with our kids in our homes is bad enough, but splitting that number in half can rip your heart out.

Divorce just brings a different dynamic to the home. Before the divorce, my kids were used to celebrating the holiday with their cousins and grandparents every year. Now, they still get to do that when they are with their dad, but we have filled our time together with other traditions. We still carry out some of the ones that we love (like acting out the Nativity on Christmas Eve), but we have also incorporated a few new ones (like driving through the neighborhood to see all the Christmas lights) that we love just as much. I’ve learned not to be afraid of new traditions; you can as well.

Look at the season, not the day

Each custody arrangement is different. Some split the number of days during the holiday season and some split actual hours on the day itself. Whatever your custody arrangement is, try to look at the season rather than the day. We have had Christmas at our house as early as the 19th of December; some years, we’ve had it on the 26th or 27th. The same goes for Thanksgiving. If your kids are not going to be with you, ask your extended family to eat Thanksgiving dinner with you the weekend before or after Thanksgiving Day. Have Christmas a couple of days late. Do what works best for your family and custody arrangement. The memories you make will always be associated with the holiday rather than the day.

The magic of the holidays lives in the little things—in the time spent together baking, wrapping gifts, or singing carols—not the date on the calendar or a magazine-perfect Christmas tree. By doing what we can to make the holidays special with our kids, we’ll have a little less time worrying when we are without them.

Shannon Jones works in marketing and moonlights as a taxi driver for her kids—she also spends a good amount of time looking for her car keys! She lives with her husband and kids in Huntsville, UT.

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