The first Christmas following our divorce, my ex-husband arrived to pick up our 4- and 7-year-old sons. I watched the boys struggle to understand what was happening. They were caught in an emotional tug-of-war. My youngest son verbalized his feelings — telling me that while he wanted to see his dad, he didn’t want to leave me (or his new toys). My oldest looked like he’d been kicked in the stomach.
Avoiding the tension
No one prepared me for those moments when I’d be rushing my kids away from enjoying their new toys to awkwardly handing off my sons to their dad at our front door. We all knew that this was not the way Christmas was supposed to be. And I knew by the looks on their little faces — and the long goodbyes — that I had to find a way for them to avoid this pain in the future.
The next year, I asked my ex-husband if he’d come over on Christmas morning and eat brunch with us. This would allow the boys to spend time with both of us, enjoying their gifts without feeling pulled apart. He agreed to put our differences aside for the boys’ sake, and we did this successfully for the next eight years.
You may be thinking, But you don’t know my story. Believe me, I do understand. My ex-husband and I are not one of those couples who remained friends after divorce. When making the decision to share Christmas each of those years, I carefully considered what was best for my children. This arrangement may not work for your family, and that’s OK. It wasn’t a permanent change for my family either.
When my boys became teenagers, they told me they didn’t need to have Christmas morning together anymore, so we exchanged that tradition for a new one. We call it “Midnight Christmas.” My boys and I attend the Christmas Eve service, enjoy a special candlelit dinner at home and watch a Christmas movie in our new pajamas. Then we open all our gifts at midnight. We sleep in, eat breakfast together, and the boys drive themselves to their dad’s house afterward. I encourage them to enjoy time with their dad and assure them that I want them to have fun.
Because of the decisions and compromises that began with Christmas years ago, my sons have good memories of many special occasions. This has set the tone for how we’ve dealt with baptisms, school programs and college visits, and how we will approach future graduations and weddings. In the midst of trying times, I believe their dad and I have given them a gift far better than any we could have ever bought.
Kim Hill is a Dove Award winner, Grammy nominee and author of Hope No Matter What.