Single Parenting at the Holidays

Single Parenting at the Holidays December 16, 2009
Me with the Kids

The next couple weeks pose a challenge for any family, but a particular challenge for those of us who are divorced parents, and particularly for our kids.  One immediately thinks of the Hallmark movie moments of passing the kids from one house to another, the two Christmas dinners, etc.

But a more difficult thing to negotiate is which side of the family gets the pre-divorce traditions.  Some are sorted out in the settlement — you get Christmas Eve, I get Christmas Day.  But others aren’t, like who gets to take the kids to the Hollidazzle Parade downtown, or to the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum to see the Christmas train.  Who gets to watch A Christmas Story with the kids?  Those little details are neither negotiated in the divorce, nor are they particularly easy to negotiate on the fly.  In fact, the nostalgia, emotion, and sentiment around the holidays make these even more difficult to negotiate than the usual mundane details of the rest of the year.

So I’ve taken to developing some new traditions.  We’re reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which I’m reading from my parents’ first edition copy and remembering what a truly wonderful story it is.  We baked about a ton of cookies with my mom last weekend.  And we’re gonna do some new things that I hope to make annual occurrences over the holiday break from school.

While I can rationalize the change in our family dynamic, it is a particular challenge for the children at the holidays, which is all the more reason to develop some patterns and rhythms that will provide them some comfort.

Have you got any tips or hints for me?

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  • No tips. No hints. Just prayers for your family, my friend.

  • Peter A

    Tony-Glad to hear the kids liked the train museum! On cold crappy days it’s a favorite of Henry’s.

    Hey what about a Wii tourney and some hot totties? I’m sure you do have that sweet Praying game you blogged about a while back. LOL. Otherwise we got Mario Kart.

  • Hey Tony,

    No advice, but a lot of admiration for being so intentional and loving about this. What I remember of my parents’ split, even though I was already in college, was the complete negation of all the traditions that went before. I’m not at all surprised to be impressed by you as you think about how to give this gift to your kids.

    Merry Christmas!


  • Anthony

    Thanks for posting this. This year we’ve been doing the advent wreath together. No tips other than a commendation for keeping a rhythm for your kids. That’s been a challenge for me in particular.

  • I can so relate to this. As you pointed out, not only are there more traditions and events to sort out, but this reality colors everything:

    “…the nostalgia, emotion, and sentiment around the holidays make these even more difficult to negotiate than the usual mundane details of the rest of the year.”

    Maybe that’s why I suddenly got a very emotional email from my ex this morning, eh?

    You’re taking the right approach, though, by starting to put in place some new traditions, without dumping all the old ones. At the start of Advent each year, I also try to sit down with my kids and ask them which traditions and activities they’re looking forward to the most. I don’t present them with a list, I want to find out what is rooted in their minds. Then I can sort it out, email with their dad, and make sure we can fit those things in without adding stress. Because that, of course, is the last thing the kids need more of.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your struggle. I need to remember to pray for all the divorced parents I know, and especially the kids.

  • Tony, thanks so much for sharing this. Being raised by a single mom with no dad in the picture at all, we didn’t have the same kind of navigation going on, but I relate to the idea of challenges at the holidays in general. Mostly, we couldn’t be or have that light hearted “picture perfect” family with no cares, worries, issues. But maybe that made some special moments even more magical and meaningful. My favorite memories are creating with my mom [my parent – it would’ve been the same if she were my dad ;-)]…crafting tree ornaments, making gifts on a tight budget for family members and some baking too. Your intentionality is wonderful and they are lucky kids to have a dad like you who truly gives a damn about being together and making great memories together. I’m sure the memories you’re making now that are special to you and them will be gifts that keep on giving, bringing smiles and stories throughout their whole lives, whenever the holidays inevitably return. Cheers to you! Merry Christmas.

  • duhsciple

    Hip, hip, hooray for intentionality!

    Bravo for making memories!

    Standing ovation for reading the “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” story which counters the sentimental, nostalgia Christmas mind-set!

    And prayers for all families not matter what their make up this season that healing might grow. Amen

  • Only one of the best Christmas stories ever, Best Christmas Pageant.

    I’ll echo what’s been said already – my best holiday memories are the simple things, and I know it’s the same for my older kids. I’m struck by how little they remember of the stuff that I worked really hard at to pull off, but it’s the little “seemingly insignificant” things that they remember. My kids are loud and sloppy and love to make a good old fashioned mess … so making ornaments, putting together a gingerbread house (with stuff only in the house, which makes it more challenging … I recommend duct tape on the inside, by the way), they are all over stuff like that.

    Holiday blessings to you and your littles, as you find your new rythmn.

  • Les

    You know I empathise. Thinking of you as I hang with my kids.

  • Kenton

    I’m someone whose parents divorced when I was an adult. My mother passed away 6 weeks ago which I thought would help the whole time with mom/time with dad thing. But now my mom time obligation is transferred to my mom’s sister (never married/no kids of her own). They could keep each other company while I had time with my dad, but now I hate to leave her alone. Add to that my obligated time with my in-laws, the grief that comes with my first Christmas without my mom, and you can see that I’m just hoping to get through this year.

    All of that to say that your kids are in a similar situation as mine. They’re grieving their parents’ divorce, they’re going to be stressed about how they’ll be splitting their time up, and they’re probably not going to say much about it for their parents’ sake. Be sensitive to it. If spending Christmas eve AND Christmas day with their mother is less stressful for them, let them do it even if it sucks for you. You can give them some dad time Christmas night and on Saturday.

  • Tony-
    Thanks for sharing this. I feel that this is something that we often neglect to think about this time of the year, so I appreciate your willingness to help open our eyes to it.

    “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is a great tradition to start with the kids. I think I’ll join you on that one!

  • Matt McGraw


    No hints or tips, really.

    My son is spending the holidays with myself and my wife (not my son’s mom). He’s super excited and has been looking forward to the trip for several weeks. He is flying by himself for the first time!

    As my ex-wife, my wife and myself continue to navigate the ever-changing relationship we share, I just try to remember that the most important thing is to make sure my son knows he is loved. He has, now, 3 sets of Grandparents and two wonderful homes. We strive everyday to make connections and share stories.

    Praying for you and your family,