When my first husband and I began figuring out where our four kids, two of them teens, would spend the holidays, I admit, things got a little heated. And that was before I remarried. Celebrating Christmas after divorce and co-parenting presents its challenges. More so when you and a new spouse blend your families.
Thankfully, that period in our lives was short-lived because we figured out how to co-parent with each other by putting their well-being first. The same went for my second husband and his ex, who also had two teens when we married and blended our families. The result could’ve been much different had we not decided from the get-go that Christmas would be a source of joy for everyone, including our exes.
Our plan? My second husband and I had a meeting of the minds about how we wanted to celebrate Christmas with such a large brood in tow. And it wasn’t that we decided to go on a shopping spree to fulfill their wishlists. What we chose to give them didn’t cost a dime. And that was the gift of choice.
We let our children choose where they wanted to go for Christmas.
We gave our children what they wanted for Christmas by letting them pick what they wanted to do for Christmas, a tradition we started in 2011. It was the same year we got married and blended our family — my four kids and my husband’s two, who today range in age from 29 to 19. It’s a choice we pride ourselves on more than a decade later.
We communicated with our exes about our idea to let the kids design their own Christmas.
Here’s how it started: That first Christmas, my husband’s daughter was a freshman in college and scheduled to fly home from school for a visit. To make sure everyone got time with her, my husband reached out to his ex. His ex was on board with letting the kids choose. Then the three of them worked out a schedule that made everyone happy.
At the same time, my kids were supposed to fly out to Minnesota to see their dad. My ex also liked our new approach, and he didn’t put any pressure on our kids to be at his home on a certain day—or at all. They could come over the break or visit another time, it was their choice.
As it turned out, one of my sons had a few friends from back home come to visit here in Seattle, adding to the mix of comings and goings that year. It’s what he wanted to do, and because of that, the house was happy and harmonious. All of our homes were, though not all of them were quiet.
We cooked two Christmas meals and extended open invitations to come or politely decline, no questions asked.
Exactly as it sounds, we held two all-out Christmas celebrations, one on Christmas Eve, the other on Christmas Day. We opened our door to any child who wanted to come to either celebration or both. We also gave our blessing if anyone decided to go elsewhere for the holiday. The idea stuck and has since become the only Christmas tradition we have for our tight-knit blended family.
We took our rule-less Christmas one step further to include gift-giving. Whenever the kids want to exchange presents, we do. The only constants during the holidays are home cooking and baking—including our messy tradition of baking New Orleans-style beignets—and lots of laughs. Everyone comes and goes feeling good.
There are no rules. No demands. No traditions. And it’s the most precious gift we could have ever hoped to exchange with our kids — the best of us for the best of them.