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by Tammy Bennett, President, Christian CoParenting After Divorce

I remember, as a small child, the excitement I would feel about Christmas! I also remember the anxiety I would feel regarding my parents and “where” I would spend the holidays. I remember feeling responsible to “make” my parents happy by being sure they each knew that I loved them and that I wanted to be with them on these important days. However, since my father and mother lived an hour apart, I could never be with them both on days like Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s. I remember lots of tears being shed by my mother as I would drive away to go to my father’s house and I would watch her and wonder if she was going to be ok. I had a sinking feeling inside about leaving her alone and was constantly worried that she needed me there in order to be happy. My heart was always torn between “where” I was physically and where I was “needed” emotionally.

As I reflect on those feelings, I realize now that it was not my responsibility to “make” my parents happy or to “plan ahead” for them to enjoy the holidays. Children should not carry those burdens. The intentional efforts needed around complicated holidays are completely the responsibility of the adults. Looking back I can see that both of my parents expected something from me that was unrealistic and I was not able to provide it for them. They “needed me” in order to be happy – to enjoy the holidays – and to keep their emotional stability together. That was an unfair expectation to put on a child.

As a co-parent parent of a seven-year-old, I recognize that spending Christmas without our children can be one of the most difficult experiences known to parents, especially if we have had years of traditional holidays in the past and are now faced with creating new traditions and new ways to celebrate. In no way am I trying to minimize the “ache” or the sadness that a parent can feel inside as they watch their little ones (or teens) drive away with their other parent. In no way do I minimize the potential loneliness that single parents can feel during the holidays. These are hard moments. These take courage to walk through and it takes intentional PRE-PLANNING to handle them well.

Here are a few ideas to consider when planning for holidays:

  1. What are the most important factors at stake with your child’s heart? Emotional stability, minimal conflict, the freedom to love and enjoy both parents, the real meaning behind the holidays – these are just a few. Do whatever it takes to think on these FIRST when planning for the holidays – not on your own emotional needs or expectations. You are the adult and it’s not about you - - it’s about the children.
  2. Are we thinking about 365 days a year? God showed me early on, in my own co-parenting journey, that what was MOST important is how my daughter feels 365 days a year, not just one day!! Is she emotionally whole and healthy? Is she free to love us both? Do her dad and I think about the “big picture” more than the momentary holiday? Does it really matter if we open Christmas presents on December 25th or are the gifts just as special and enjoyable on December 28th or 29th? Why do we let one day on the calendar dictate so much emotional stress, financial strain, physical exhaustion and unrealistic commercialized expectations? The media would want us to focus on the stuff that makes Christmas special, but I would say, Christmas is about the birth of Christ. That can be celebrated and fully embraced 365 days a year - - why “split” the holidays into such stressful experiences that are focused on the calendar and the clock? Is that why God gave us Christmas?
  3. What do I do when faced with spending a significant holiday alone without my children? (This applies to both single parents and blended family parents.) Now this is where it can get fun! Plan a trip with another single parent (or blended family parents), close friends or family members. Go somewhere unique and different that you have never been (even if it’s an hour away and you’re back in your own bed that evening). Open your home to other single parents and blended family parents who are in the same boat, without their children. Make a whole day of it – encourage everyone to bring food, movies and games – relax and enjoy the unique fellowship between other adults that can all understand how challenging holidays can be. Decide to spend the day giving your life away in service at a local homeless mission, women’s/men’s shelter or meeting a need in another person’s life - ask a friend to join you and let the day be about serving others in much greater need than yourself – it will be amazing to see how God shows up! Bottom line: intentionally make fun plans for the holiday so that it does not surprise you!
  4. Create new traditions! Instead of spending your time regretting how life has turned out and reminiscing about all that used to be – decide this year to come up with one or two completely new traditions that can be implemented with your children. Especially if this is the first holiday as a single parent or blended family, try to really think outside of the box!
    • Have a pajama fashion show and play disco music on Christmas morning!
    • Make breakfast for dinner on Christmas Eve and snuggle up and watch Shrek!
    • Bake a “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake together, use a tube of brown frosting and draw a simple cross on the cake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus (on ANY day – December 18th, 22nd, 29th – whenever it’s the best fit for your children!).
    • Pick another family in need and work together to provide something special for them so that your gifts and talents can bless someone else.
    • Go Christmas caroling on New Year’s Eve (why not?!).
    • Make pizza for the main course and dessert pizza to follow.
    • Celebrate your new family and the creative legacy you CAN leave in the midst of raising children between two homes.
  5. Make plans for the evening of “departure day” before Christmas. If this is the year your children spend with their other parent, enlist a few of your best friends to go out to dinner and a movie, or to come over for dinner and a game of chess. Pre-plan an activity so that after your children drive away you already HAVE PLANS to do something intentional for yourself so that the emotions don’t surprise you - - and if you need to shed tears or talk about the feelings you are experiencing, you’ll have the support of other adults who can walk that out with you (but please don’t let your children see you cry when they depart with the other parent).
  6. Say positive words out loud!! Let your kids “go freely” and send them off with JOY that they will have a wonderful time with their other family and that you are sincerely EXCITED and happy for the fun they will have while they are away from you. Say those words out loud and often so that their hearts can fully “go” with them to enjoy a few of the days away from you – it will set them FREE to laugh, love and enjoy their other parent. It is a gift you are giving YOUR CHILD by saying these words out loud! It has nothing to do with the other parent, but ALL to do with your precious children and their ability to live free of guilt, free of inappropriate expectations and to simply live out loud the best life possible!!

None of this is easy, but it is all manageable and you can find a way to do it differently! Remember also that God’s sweet comfort is close and He has promised us that He will NEVER leave or forsake us – He is with us at all times and He hears every thought, every question, every disappointment and He catches every tear.

Be strong for your children. Be intentional for yourself. Decide this year will be your very BEST year yet in pre-planning for the complications of the holidays!!

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start now and make a brand new ending.