I never planned to end up sharing custody of my kids and co-parenting at the holidays, yet 10 years ago, that’s exactly where I found myself. And I’m not going to lie—it’s been tough. And I’m also not going to lie and say “it gets easier.” Because it doesn’t.
Splitting time with your kids at what’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year”, that doesn’t get easier.
Explaining to your parents why they won’t see their grandkids on the date they were hoping because you’re juggling with another set of families—that doesn’t get easier.
Knowing your kids have preferences on what they’d like to do for the holidays, then watching them have to put those preferences aside—yeah, that doesn’t get easier, either.
I remember that very first Christmas Eve when I knew I’d be waking up Christmas morning without my kids. Christmas morning was going to be me, my coffee maker and the AMC Christmas movie marathon. It was almost too much to handle. I called a friend that night 2,000 miles away who sat on the phone with me for two hours. We watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” and drank a bottle of wine (each). We laughed, we cried, and I was able to remind myself that while my life wasn’t looking like the perfect ending I felt everyone else was enjoying, that my life, still truly was wonderful in other ways.
I learned a couple of tips over the years that have helped me find the joy in the season.
- Do not let yourself be alone Christmas morning. Make sure that on the years you won’t have your kids on Christmas morning, that someone else will be able to have your back (and spike your coffee).
- Find a new routine just for you. It doesn’t have to be glorious or complicated, but something, some small thing, that you can count on each and every year. It may be a special phone call, a special bottle of wine, a special dinner you cook—something solid that you can count on and look forward to.
- Find a new routine with your kids. Since Christmas morning may or may not be yours, maybe December 23rd is your day. This became the day that me and my kids have our annual “wrap party.” We play 90’s music and we wrap presents. We laugh, we wrap and we rap. Pick a day that you can claim and make up something uniquely yours.
- Remember that your kids are having their own experience and it’s not necessarily as terrible as you fear it may be. When my kids were younger, their only driving concern was whether or not Santa knew where to deliver the presents. Once they felt solid on that point they were good. Sometimes it's so much simpler than we think. Let it be simple.
- Get help. I learned this my second year in. If you can, find a therapist to get you through the holidays. I’ve learned to make sure that I’m on my therapist's calendar starting November first through January. Get out in front of it. Make sure you have a safe and healthy space to express your feelings and work through your thoughts.
- Don’t fight for dates on the calendar. It’s not worth it. It doesn’t matter if you get the 25th or the 26th. Just make sure you make the most of the days you get.
So, to the mamas sitting on the other side of the gymnasium from your child’s father during the winter school program, I see you.
To the mamas explaining 100 times not to worry, that Santa knows which house you’ll be at! I see you.
To the mamas who bake the cookies and deck the halls and play the carols and light the tree to make sure your children feel all the joy of the holidays, even when you don’t quite feel it yourself, I see you.
We didn’t all get the Hallmark ending. But here’s what you need to know: You’re not alone, and it’s going to be ok. You are going to be ok. And most importantly, your children—they’re going to be ok. (I can say this with 10 years of this under my belt.)
You want to know why? Because you work twice as hard to close the gap. And your children see that. They feel the love in the accommodations you’re making. They know they are being prioritized by so many people who love them and want to spend time with them. Your kids will adapt to a different kind of Christmas and someday, they will look back on their Christmas experience and will embrace it as “the most wonderful time of the year”—even if there’s not a Hallmark Movie script for it just yet.
Something else that can help? How about a little gift for yourself...