The Holiday season is supposed to be --CUE THE ORCHESTRA! and ANDY WILLIAMS!-- The Most Wonderful tiiiiime of the YEAR!! But for separated parents, it can create big headaches inside emotional mine fields to be carefully navigated.
First of all, I advise you to keep it in perspective. It's easy to let all the hype of the holidays and the overblown expectations carry you away.Remember we've been sold this Norman Rockwell painting for generations. Even an ad agency for Coca Cola created the big jolly elf image that so many of us associate with Santa Claus.
I say this all the time but your ability to enjoy the holidays with your kids and co-parent effectively really begins with you. Look inside yourself. It doesn't matter what your ex is thinking. Try to remember that it's a few days out of the entire year. That's what I mean about perspective. I understand those days are wrapped up in lots of emotion, traditions, religion and the push and pull of various factions of your family and your ex's. It can be a lot and none of it is easy.
First things first, stay child-focused. Think about the holidays from their perspective not yours or your ex's. That will be the biggest gift you can give your children. Again, it won't necessarily be easy but being a child focussed, emotionally calm co parent rarely is. It means you might have to give up some of your traditions or at least adjust them with your children in order to make the holiday schedule work best for the kids so that they can enjoy as much exposure to family and friends on both sides in the most positive way. As parents, especially separated and divorced ones, we really have to be aware to avoid projecting our personal wants and needs onto the kids at holiday time. Most parenting agreements or court orders deal very specifically with exactly where the children are to be on each day of the holidays, in some cases right down to the hour. This is a good thing because it creates a solid framework for separated parents to work from and hopefully leaves very little to misinterpretation.
Life of course doesn't always go according to plan or court order but you're not going to find a judge to deal with your squabbles with your ex during the holidays when the courts are closed to anything other than a true emergency. Therefore, better that you try hard to get along with your kids other parent.
Being flexible with your co-parent only shows your strength, and trust me, your children will remember what you did many years down the road. They are watching the example you set even when it's killing you inside emotionally.
We all feel the pull to be the best parent, the most generous parent and the most fun parent. Don't fall into that trap during the holidays. Just be yourself. Try to discuss holiday gifts for the kids with their other parent well in advance of any purchases being made. No kid is happy opening the exact same gift at each parents home. It just reminds them of the pain of the split. Try to agree that this year you or the other parent will give the kids the big gift or if you can, do that together or at least tell the children that the gift is from both of you even if you're not there to watch them open it. Decisions like that comfort your children and it shows them that as co-parents you support each other.
Perhaps you can take turns each year giving "the big gift". There's no harm in suggesting it but even if you ex doesn't want to play ball, just keep your cool. Your children's love for you is not attached to the material things that appear or don't appear during the holidays. Truth is, kids from divorced homes often wind up with a heck of a lot more material things than their non two household friends at school.
The key is to communicate, communicate and communicate more with your ex. The earlier the better. Remember, you can't control your ex or his family. You can't even control your well meaning family. You can only control yourself so put all your effort into that and your children really will have a wonderful holiday time.