Holidays After Divorce

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Categories Divorce, Holidays, Parenting, Single ParentingTags 1 Comment

Mandy’s post about her Advent traditions made me realize how much our holiday practices vary from year to year. This year, I’m going to be experiencing an altogether new aspect of the holidays after divorce: My daughters and I won’t be together on Christmas Day. They’ll be in Washington State with their Dad celebrating Christmas with his family while I stay home in Texas, baking up a storm.

How one family tweaks family traditions in light of divorce and custody issues.

Holiday Custody

The custody arrangement in our divorce decree is pretty standard, from what I understand. The girls live with me full-time. Our daughters are to alternate between me and their father for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Technically, Daddy is supposed to have the kids for Christmas in even-numbered years and Thanksgiving in odd-numbered years as well as Fathers’ Day every year. However, given that he can’t always (or, so far, ever) adjust his work schedule to make that work, he spends the holidays with M and J whenever he can.  This year, he was able to secure some time off around Christmas and will be taking our daughters to stay with his parents for a few weeks.

Celebrating at Mommy’s House

J, M and I talked about how we wanted to celebrate Christmas together, and they decided that they wanted to have our standard Christmas, complete with gift-opening, Christmas dinner, family baking time, carol singing and watching The Snowman together.

Furthermore, they wanted to celebrate before they left with Daddy. We’ll be celebrating Christmas on December 15, while school is still in session. We had a quick discussion as to how Santa handles this sort of situation. The girls agreed that he can adjust his scheduled chimney descents to accommodate early Christmases with Mommy. He’s due at our house the night of the 14th.

Atypical Holiday Dates

Oddball holiday dates are no new thing for our family. My ex-father-in-law is a firefighter and my ex-husband a soldier. One or both them worked on holidays more often than not. With me and the girls in Texas, my in-laws in Washington state, my parents in the UK and Bangladesh and the girls’ dad all over the world, holidays were celebrated whenever we could achieve a modicum of colocation. For several years, I made a habit of flying out to Washington or Oregon between Thanksgiving and Christmas to attend the Christmas parade in my ex-grandmother-in-law’s hometown and celebrate a bunch of holidays and birthdays with the extended family.

Being away from J and M, though, is new for me. What has always been consistent is that we’re together, thinking about family and enjoying our love for each other. When I decided on a whim to get the girls’ boring old chocolate Advent calendars, I did think about whether they’d fit easily in their suitcase to go to Grammy’s house where M and J would spend the last few days in the run-up to Christmas. We’ll have to hit our traditional Christmas lights earlier than usual this year.

Blended/Broken Family Gifts

I also had to think about presents for my former relatives. I elected to get my ex-in-laws an enlarged photo of the girls, nominally from the twins themselves. M and J decided that we should get their stepsisters night lights to match the ones they have in their room at my house.

I give each child a $25 budget for her own shopping and she can choose to include whomever she wishes on that list, although it must include Daddy and Sister. If she wishes to make handmade gifts and bank the cash, that’s up to her. Since my ex was deployed so often, we’d established a routine that we’ve kept up of having the girls’ godmother or other family friend take them shopping for gifts for me. I skip out of work a little early a couple of days in December to take the girls shopping one by one for a gift for Sister. We do the same thing for birthdays.

What About Mom?

My family isn’t Christian and therefore doesn’t celebrate Christmas except in the most secular way, and that only when we’re living in a Christian country. In other words, the only gifts I get are the ones from my girls. I do allow myself to splurge on a gift “from Santa” at Christmas since I’ve been single. Last year, Santa got me the new camera I desperately needed. This year, he will be replacing my badly cracked iPad. No one ever said Santa couldn’t exercise an Apple warranty!

On the Subject of Santa

M and J know the story of Saint Nicholas, and we make a point of giving anonymous gifts to the needy during the holidays. When they were 4, J figured out that parents were very active in Santa’s stead. I told both my daughters that Santa was really an idea, the idea of holiday generosity, inspired by Saint Nicholas’ acts during his life.

Last year, however, M informed me that she chooses to believe in Santa. The message was clear. She wanted me to continue to keep the myth of his magical Christmas powers alive in our home. She had examined the option of looking at Christmas gift giving from a purely pragmatic perspective and rejected it. J agreed to keep the story alive, reluctantly at first, then with great gusto. She insisted that I buy a home with a fireplace, just to allow Santa to work his magic.

I get myself a little end-of-year treat. If crediting it to Santa brings joy into my daughters’ Christmas, so be it. And if Santa visits Grammy’s house too, I don’t think anyone will examine that too closely. What matters is family, even if it’s been broken up and reconstructed.

How do you deal with splitting yourself or your kids between families at Christmas? Do your kids believe in Santa?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at and Multicultural Mothering.

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