WHAT THE PARENTING BOOKS DON'T TELL YOU: Joint Custody And Holidays

I knew this day -- this separate-Christmases day -- would come, but it snuck up on me.

Dec 17, 2013 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

I am about to spend my first childless Christmas in eight years, and I’m pretty depressed about it. For years I insisted I wasn’t “a Christmas person,” whatever that is, but after I had Oliver, that all changed. I AM SO INTO CHRISTMAS. It’s my favorite holiday -- I love the music, the decorations, the gifts, and the food.
 
Being away from the rest of my family, who live in Iowa, I decided several years ago that I would take up the task of making Christmas cookies every year. And that I do! Last year I made rum balls and buckeyes, and I finally made these little cookies my great grandma used to make when I was a kid, called peppernuts (not the pillowy things covered in powered sugar, but the little hard crunchy cookies that taste like Christmas and need to be dunked in a mug of tea or coffee, lest ye break a tooth).
 
But knowing that I will be without my kid this year, I have absolutely no desire to make any cookies. At this time in December, I would normally be planning out Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus, but eh. I half-assed the decorating this year. A sad box of string lights sits on the mantle, waiting to be put up and plugged in, but no. Maybe not this year. 
 
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When Seth and I first separated, one thing we agreed on was that we would spend the holidays with Oliver, as a family -- and we did! Every stinking year, even the first one when Seth and I were freshly broken up and still figuring out what our divorced family was going to look like.
 
So when Seth asked me about a month ago if he could take Oliver to Portland for Christmas, I was pretty surprised. There was a good reason, having mostly to do with Seth’s mom. See, even though we spend Christmases together, we have an every-other-year arrangement when it comes to the grandmas, where my parents will fly here one year and my ex-mother-in-law will fly here the next. This is Seth’s mom’s year to spend Christmas with Oliver, and for a number of reasons it was really best for Seth and his girlfriend and Oliver to fly there instead of her coming here.
 
And I am devastated. But I said yes because I love my ex-mother-in-law more than most people love their current mothers-in-law, and because this is technically Seth’s year to have Oliver on Christmas, per our court-approved and legally binding custody agreement. I also said yes because I did take Oliver to Iowa for Thanksgiving, and it only seemed fair to let Seth take him somewhere for Christmas.
 
At the time Seth made the case for taking Oliver to Portland, it didn’t sound like such a bad idea. But the minute I said yes, I regretted saying yes. 
 
Really, I’m lucky that every year is not like this one. I do realize that I have probably the best divorce anyone could ever hope to have, and that Oliver is lucky to have two parents who are still friends and actually do want to spend holidays together as a family. But I’m still pretty sad that I don’t get to hang out in my pajamas with my kid on Christmas morning while we listen to Bing Crosby and eat candy canes.
 
I knew this day -- this separate-Christmases day -- would come, but it snuck up on me. I didn’t think it would happen when my son was still so young.
 
Our solution this year is to celebrate Christmas before Oliver leaves town with his dad. Which, crap, means I need to finish my Christmas shopping pronto. I just cannot get it together this year.
 
Do you only get to spend every other holiday with your kid(s)? Do you have to ship them off somewhere every other year? How do you manage? Do you just cry the whole time and eat peanut butter kisses? Because that is what I plan to do, if someone else will make them for me.