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We all play the parts perfectly. Oscar-worthy really. My daughters (13 and 11) shuffle around the house excitedly until he is found. They call out for me and I come either blinky-eyed on the weekend mornings or fairly distracted weekday morning while I finish slipping in my earrings. “Max came” they will cry out. “What? Where is he? What did he do last night?” And repeat until Christmas Day.
Max the Elf is at mom’s house. Chippy, recently more grown up and now called Charles, is at dad’s house. Max is loving. Chippy is mischievous. Max thoughtfully brings little Christmas kleenex packs for their backpacks. Chippy playfully squirts toothpaste on the bathroom mirrors.
Our elves are as different as our parenting. Each elf brings them something different. The girls love them equally.
In the early seasons of our divorce, my former spouse and I coordinated what traditions we would continue. I find it endearing that we have both continued the elf tradition for the girls, even though the magic of the elves faded a couple of years ago. The gift-giving season of Christmas can produce common parenting pitfalls. I have seen parents who work together and parents who turn a season of peace and hopefulness into a battle zone. A few suggestions to avoid these blunders:
Do Not Overcompensate. Parents of divorce more often fall into the trap of overcompensating. We believe we have added hardship to our children’s lives by virtue of having been divorced. As a result we often try to “make up” for it during seasons of gifting. Filling our homes with ever last desired gift for our children, as we all know, does not serve them well. Fortunately Pinterest saved me early on with a simple rhyme: A gift to wear, a gift to read, a gift they want, a gift they need. I have followed this rule for many years and have found it has served my daughters and me well. Decide a limit – maybe in September when the emotions of the holidays do not tempt you otherwise. Stick to it regardless of what the other parent is doing.
Do Not Compete. One year one of our client’s (mom) told her former spouse (dad) that she was going to get Ava the dollhouse at Costco for Christmas from Santa. Coordinating gift giving with your co-parent can be very useful to avoid duplicates. It is not helpful when the other parent takes this information to outdo and hurt the parent. Dad bought the Costco dollhouse and gave it to his daughter a few days before Christmas. Quite simply – don’t be a jerk. There are more than enough ways to delight your child at Christmas without ruining their Christmas in their other home.
With a little restraint and a good dose of respect, co-parenting during the holidays can produce the magic we so desire for our children. Be mindful this season of what you can do to make the holidays special. Stay focused on that which is most important. You know the role that is yours to play – the one who keeps the magic alive.