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Home for the Holidays, When Your Child Has Two Homes

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The first Christmas I spent away from my daughter, she was 5. Her father and I had separated more than a year before, but she had spent that first solo Christmas with me. As part of an agreement in which both of us tried to be as fair as possible (I realize we were lucky in this regard), she spent the next Christmas with her father and his family. I drove her to his apartment then returned alone to mine, sat in front of my undersize tree, turned on a cable television marathon of A Christmas Story and poured myself the first of four stiff bourbons. It was tough.

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But this is not what I’m here to tell you. What I want to tell you is this: your child will survive Christmas in a divorced family, and so will you. A few pointers (with the caveat that these work in situations where you and your ex are both basically reasonable human beings):

  • Coordinate the wish list: Your kid wants a Razor Scooter and an American Girl Doll. Decide which one of you will get which. Try to be reasonably fair and keep in mind that it’s a bad idea to try to assuage your broken-home guilt by giving your child more presents than you can afford. That’s not good for anyone. At the same time, a kid shouldn’t feel that her most fervent wishes get lost in the cracks between two homes. You are the adult; you can do this.
  • Keep the hand-off brief: Transitions are tough for everyone. Drawn out, emotional scenes make them worse. Whether you’re the one saying goodbye to your child or the one taking over, keep things warm and friendly and light.
When your child is away from you, take care of yourself.
  • If you can swallow it, help your child buy or make a gift for her other parent. If you can’t, try to make sure someone else can. One of the hard things about divorce is that it takes away your child’s ability to give gifts (as kids don’t usually have the money or planning ability to handle it on their own), but kids enjoy the feeling of giving as well as receiving.
  • When your child is with you, be aware of his need to contact the other parent, or relatives on the other side. Make your phone available, and be alert to his feelings of loyalty and affection. The more you can give love that doesn’t require guilt, the happier your child will be (and the therapy bills will be lower, too!).
  • When your child is away from you, take care of yourself. Holidays without your child can be very difficult, especially early in your separation. Make yourself busy! Accept invitations to be with friends—it can be a great time to reconnect with your friends who don’t have kids. Let them nurture you. Let them get you drunk. Let them make you laugh.

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  • When your child returns to you after the holiday, give her permission to talk about how much fun she had. Her love for both sides of her family is what will give her strength and support as she grows up. This is, bar none, the best Christmas gift you can give her.

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