As the Christmas holiday approaches, most divorced families with kids will share visitation time with the "ex". Here are a few suggestions to make that potentially awkward or even conflicted time turn out better for both the adults and the kids.
1. Confirm the time, place, and arrangements for the exchange in advance. By email. Get all the details straightened out far in advance, and then let the kids know what they are. Put it on the calendar or refrigerator or wherever you post important stuff.
2. Buy the other parent a Christmas present. A small but thoughtful gift. No snarky gifts with emotional bombshells attached. A nice gift. If you can't forgive your spouse and teach your kids to be kind and thoughtful givers, who will?
3. Be especially considerate about time. Be on time for the exchange. Make sure the kids get advance warning, and count down the time till the exchange so they are not surprised. Don't let the kids use Christmas as an excuse to generate conflict by being late--be on time, be polite, be considerate. Teach your children to do the same by following your example.
4. Let the kids take their new presents to the other parent's house. Kids will be excited about one or more of their new gifts and want to take it with them. Let them. Make sure they get back where they belong, by informing the other parent what they brought (by email if you can't talk politely).
5. Avoid the long good-bye and the "I will miss you so much over the holidays" tearful send-offs at the exchange. Make it fun, upbeat, and short. If you treat this as a normal event, so will your kids, and everyone will have a nicer holiday visit.
6. Use the time without the kids to take care of yourself. Read a book, go to the spa, go to dinner with friends, stay busy. Enjoy the holidays yourself so you will have stories to tell the kids when they get home and tell you theirs.
7. Make NO comments about how much the other parent spent (or didn't) on presents. Focus on teaching your kids to be grateful for whatever they got--it's a great opportunity to teach kids the value of family and relationships and to de-emphasize money and stuff.
8. Show modest interest in the family drama at the other parent's house. Listen, but don't interrogate. As someone recently said, "Every family has at least one crazy person in it. If you can't identify who that is, it's you!". Holidays mean that old family issues are re-played in virtually every family, including yours. Don't get overly involved in those dramas at the other parent's house. Teach your kids that everyone has their stuff, and teach them how to deal with it productively. In other words, model tolerance and understanding.
Have a very Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays).