If you're separated or divorced with young kids, chances are you're working with a comprehensive separation agreement or parenting plan when it comes to arrangements for the kids; where they stay and when, who takes them to which activities, and how to handle emergencies, to name just a few of the details. Or, perhaps, you're approaching your first post-separation Christmas without a finalized agreement in hand and you're wondering what the holidays will look like.
Thankfully, Christmas comes once a year, and Hanukkah, too. These times are chaotic for families, a tapestry of social events, cheese, and driving in snowstorms to places you don't really want to go (or maybe that's just me?). Still, when the holidays approach, the regular parenting time schedule for the kids may be superseded by a "holiday schedule" (important to include in any separation or parenting agreement!) which reflects the extended period of schools being closed, of time off work, and of statutory holidays for many families. More often than not, parents will agree to share "Christmas" equally. This can look many different ways, but the most common is a predictable annual swapping - in odd years, the kids are with Parent 1 and in even years, the kids are with Parent 2, usually from a specified time on Christmas Eve through to a specified time on Christmas Day, with that alternating each year for fairness. Outside of those "major days", the schedule should usually revert back to the "regular" schedule.
Still, life happens. People re-partner, travel plans get marred by bad weather, and kids get sick and sometimes best-laid plans don't pan out. Practicing the art of flexibility is important here. Communicate. Discuss. Keep in mind what's best for the kids - that they have a lovely, magical, chocolate-filled holiday, not that they bear witness to two frustrated adults duking it out over a few hours here and there. At the end of the day, it's just not that important, though I totally get that in the moment it will feel like the most important thing ever of all time.
If you're feeling sad about your kids not being with both of their parents on the supreme "Christmas Morning", tiptoeing down the stairs in matching jammies, rubbing their eyes like cartoon characters trying to decide whether the contents under the tree are real or not, remember: it's really, really cool for them. They're going to have TWO Christmases. You can also - gasp - opt to spend Christmas morning together, as the family you still are. That's what my ex and I do. He often comes on Christmas Day, we share a meal, we laugh, and we give the gift of normalizing different types of families to our kids.
Charlotte Schwartz is a parent of four and a family law clerk. She spent fifteen years working closely with clients on their divorces, helping them navigate co-parenting, before co-parenting became her own reality. Charlotte lives on a tiny urban farm in Toronto’s east end. Your Place or Mine? is her new book.