Holiday Series Part 2: Divorced with Kids? It’s Time to Santa-Up!

Although it’s the season to be jolly, some divorced couples with children may find themselves saying, “Ba-hum-bug!” as the realities of shared custody set in. Just because you can’t celebrate a classic Norman Rockwell family holiday, you don’t have to turn into the Grinch. Here are four ways to manage sharing your kids without losing your holiday spirit.

1. Think Outside the (Gift) Box: Just because your tradition was to spend Christmas Eve at your Grandma’s house doesn’t mean the holiday is ruined because your spouse has the children this year. Rather than complain about how things have changed and dwell on what you can’t do, create a new tradition to uphold every other year. Involve your kids and let them help come up with ideas. Or look at traditions from other countries and cultures for inspiration: For example, in England, families exchange gifts on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.

2. Avoid the Battle of the Santa’s: If possible, coordinate gift giving with your ex, split the tab on high-ticket presents, or set a spending limit. If your ex insists on being more lavish in his/her giving, avoid the urge to make an issue of it. Remember, quality time spent with your kids — baking cookies, singing carols, playing games, etc. — during the holiday vacation are invaluable gifts, and are what they will actually remember. (And if you’re the primary custodian, don’t discount the inherent value of time that you give your children all year long.)

3. Wrap Gifts with Ribbons, but with No Strings Attached: Avoid giving your child a gift with the caveat that it can only be used at your house. After all, the present is for your child to enjoy — no matter where he or she goes. If you’re providing your child with an expensive game system so he or she will want to spend more time at your house, you might want to rethink your motives.

4. Demonstrate the Holiday Spirit. If you’re on good terms, talk to your ex about sharing special events together, such as attending your child’s school pageant, gathering for gift opening on Christmas morning, or going to church services together. There’s no better way to show your children what it means to wish for peace on Earth and good will toward all than during the holidays.

Although juggling custody arrangements is seldom easy, finding amicable ways to enjoy the holidays, will not only demonstrate the spirit of the giving season, it will allow you to model healthy behaviors, such as kindness and maturity. And those may be the most valuable gifts of all to give your children.

Divorced with kids? Read more tips from the experts about how to share the love.