High Conflict Christmas In Two Homes Survival Guide

christmas balls and lights on tree

High Conflict Christmas in Two Homes Survival Guide


©2019 Andrea LaRochelle, RFM

Do you feel like your children are *missing out* by not spending time with both their parents on Christmas Day? Have your children become a pawn in your ongoing parental conflict and Christmas is just another example of that?

When you are falling in love, planning your future and creating a family, rarely do you envision a plan for what might happen should the relationship fail. When you first had children, you mentally created a picture of what Christmas was going to look like for your family. That picture likely didn’t include sharing the holidays, alternating Christmas and New Year’s, not seeing your children open presents on December 25, Christmas in two homes.

It wasn’t the picture your children mentally created for Christmas either.

Ouch.  Did that sting a little bit?

Good. I wanted to make sure I got your attention; what I’m about to tell you is important.

Often parents focus on what their children are missing out on rather than what they are feeling and needing.  Parents worry about what they believe their children DESERVE rather than what their children NEED. The only thing children NEED at Christmas (and every day, for that matter) is to know that they are loved unconditionally, regardless of their parents’ inability to get along.

You can’t change your reality, or your children’s reality. (Unless, of course, you and your children’s other parent are able to put your differences aside and celebrate Christmas together).

You need to let go of your Christmas expectations from the past and start creating new Christmas traditions. Help your children create new magical Christmas memories, that they will look back on fondly.

Christmas isn’t just a day celebrated on December 25th, Christmas is about the feelings and emotions we attach to the day. Those feelings and emotions can be created on any day of the year.

Choose to let go of your attachment to December 25th, the day, and start creating the Christmas feelings and emotions you want your children to associate with the experience of Christmas. How the heck do you do that?

3 Steps to Letting Go of your Christmas Day Expectations for your Children

  1. Focus on what is important to your children, and why. Your children may ask for the newest & shiniest toy on the shelf at Toys R’ Us, but if you quiet yourself and really tune into their NEEDS, you may surprise yourself to learn what they really want. Generally, as long as their *mom* or *dad* is happy on the day Christmas is celebrated, then they are happy. Your happiness is what your children need and want for Christmas this year. Choose to put on a happy face and be present with your children this Christmas, on whatever day that might be and however Christmas might look this year.

  2. Focus on the memories you want your children to remember when reflecting on their childhood Christmas experiences with you. Your children are going to remember Christmas one of two ways – positively or negatively. You, and only you, can help shape the memories they will have around Christmas with you. Their other parent may take them to Disneyland, buy them expensive presents or, for one reason or another, put limits on how much time you are able to spend with your children at Christmas. You can’t change any of that. Those are memories, good or bad, their other parent is choosing to give your children. What memories can you help create? What feelings do you want your children to connect to their Christmas experience with you? “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

  3. Focus your time and energy on your children this Christmas. Parents often romanticize what Christmas is like for intact families; family board games by the fire, sledding & skating with hot chocolate afterwards, caroling while decorating the Christmas tree, laughs of joy Christmas morning. Intact families have their Christmas struggles too. They argue over who knotted the Christmas lights, who will take little Joey to the walk in clinic because he sprained his ankle sledding or skating. Intact families bicker through Christmas Day because the kids were up at 5am to see what Santa brought and 15 people are showing up for dinner.

There is a difference between intact families and those who are apart. Children of intact families celebrate one Christmas with Santa, one Christmas dinner, one Christmas tree decorating adventure. Children of separated parents have the opportunity to experience not only two Christmas’s with Santa, two Christmas dinners and two Christmas tree decorating adventures; children of separated parents also experience one-on-one Christmas time with each parent.

Cherish the time you have with your children this Christmas, whether it’s on December 25th or January 8th. Make Christmas special for your children. Focus your time and energy on your children this Christmas; I promise you, they will always look back fondly on their Christmas experiences with you.

5 New Christmas Traditions for Children with Two Homes

  1. Celebrate *half Christmas* on June 25th – Who decided Christmas had to be celebrated in December, anyway?

  2. The Great Annual *Christmas* Pancake Cook-off – Create memories through feelings and emotions, this can happen any day of the year!)

  3. The Annual Scrabble/Monopoly/Boardgame Challenge (8 hours of continuous Board games – thinks of the laughs to be had!!)

  4. The Annual Dollar Store Scavenger Hunt – Each family member gets $5 and 5 minutes to find the *perfect* holiday gag gift for everyone in their family OR each family member gets $5 and 5 minutes to find the perfect give to donate to a family in need. You can spin this many ways; What’s important is that you are doing it together, creating positive emotional memories for your children)

  5. The Christmas Card Craft Extravaganza – Spend a morning making Christmas Cards for your neighbors, then deliver!

What do I do on Christmas Day if I don’t have my kids?

Excellent question.

Many parents struggle to fill the time that they don’t have their kids in their care. Especially at Christmas.  Thoughts wander to what you would be doing if the kids were WITH you, what Christmas USED to look like, all the activities you are MISSING because you are separated or divorced.

It’s been scientifically proven that our brains are wired to find the negative, the danger, what could go wrong, and what we’re missing automatically.  It takes effort, work, and a genuine desire to find the good instead.

If you have time this Christmas without kids in your care, create the mindset of opportunity. This is your chance to do all those things you haven’t been able to do!  Or thought you couldn’t do.  Or told yourself you shouldn’t do.

9 Super Awesome Ways to Spend Time With Yourself This Christmas:

  1. Cook a new recipe that’s complicated, time-consuming, and uses lots of exotic ingredients.  Spend hours puttering around spice markets, browsing mouth-watering possibilities.  Invite friends over to enjoy the meal with you – or savor it while reading your favorite book or binge-watching a new TV show.

  2. Cruise through YouTube and try out some new workouts – you name it, YouTube has it.  It even has some you can’t name.

  3. Go for a walk.  A long, luxurious walk.  Put on your headphones and listen to a podcast, audiobook, or tunes of your choosing. Don’t have access to a device? Walk in silence and see what interesting and creative ideas pop into your head.

  4. Grab yourself a coffee or tea and head to your nearest bookstore for some book skimming, no titles are off-limits.

  5. Be a snow angel for community members. Nothing will make you feel better faster than helping someone else.

  6. Offer to pet sit for a friend or neighbor.

  7. Book yourself into a hotel room for a night and take a staycation.  Use the hotel pool or hot-tub and order fries from room service.

  8. Go see a movie.  Any movie you want.

  9. Volunteer.

 Whatever Christmas looks like in your home, make it special on your own terms.

ANDREA LAROCHELLE is an author and high-conflict co-parenting expert registered mediator with over two decades of experience helping families through the challenges of separation and divorce. She serves on the board of the Alberta Family Mediation Society. She teaches co-parenting communication and guides parents to manage conflict more effectively, so their kids can focus on being kids. Andrea is the author of: The High-Conflict Co-Parenting Survival Guide; I’m Done!: Take Control of Your High Conflict Divorce; and the Goodbye Bugs children’s series (Goodbye Angry Bugs, Goodbye Teary Bugs, and Goodbye Worry Bugs).

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