31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Avoiding Christmas Conflict Best Present For Children

Single With Children: Family's Christmas to fall on separate days

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 12/24/03

When I was a little girl, Christmas Day was always the most magical spot on the calendar, and I remember being filled with wild anticipation. It's not the gifts I remember so much, but more of a warmth that pervaded the atmosphere.

Of course, I grew up with Ward and June Cleaver for a dad and mom, so it never occurred to me that Christmas could possibly resemble anything less than a Norman Rockwell painting. I imagined it would always feel that way.

Wouldn't you just know I'd find the exception?

I have a confession to make: I've been dreading this day. This year we're breaking with tradition, and I'm ashamed to admit that I am not handling it too well. Naturally, it's teaching me a valuable lesson.

It's another one of those courses I don't remember signing up for. Don't lessons go on holiday this time of year?

Christmas, at least at our house, will occur on two separate days, neither of which happens to be Thursday.

My daughter informed me on Thanksgiving that we would need to celebrate her Christmas on Monday, the 22nd, because she will be joining her boyfriend's family in another city. I'll miss her terribly, but she's 20 years old, and I can certainly understand.

Even though my son is 17 years old, Christmas is still a fairly big deal. There's a palpable sense of excitement, although he usually knows down to the tiniest detail exactly what he's receiving. His enthusiasm is infectious, and I love getting caught up in it. It's the only thing that prevents me from trying to rent small children.

A couple of weeks ago, my former husband called and explained to me that if he flew our son out on Christmas Day, rather than the usual day after, it would save him a whopping $800 in airline fares. What could I say? I had to agree that it only made sense.

So when Justin wakes up this Thursday, instead of heading for the tree, we'll be heading for the airport. We'll do the gift opening and dinner tonight. Tomorrow, he will be winging his way toward his father's house and I'll be...well, I'll be driving back home. Alone.

I was all prepared to feel immensely sorry for myself as I shared my plight with a friend who happens to be a single dad. He spoke of how difficult holidays without his children had been for him since his divorce.

Unfortunately, he doesn't have anything resembling a civil relationship with his former wife and, following the stipulations of his visitation rights, he has spent the past five years alone on Christmas. His portion of the holiday doesn't begin until noon the day after and apparently not one minute before.

No compromise. No flexibility. No kidding.

So much for self-pity. This guy had missed huge chunks of the past five years with his children. I felt chagrined to be complaining about a mere half-day. It's startling what a little perspective can do.

It's great fun to exchange gifts this time of year. Many of the things we give our kids are carefully chosen and wrapped in beautiful paper that will be torn to unrecognizable shreds in a matter of minutes.

As single parents who also will be exchanging our children with our former spouses, perhaps we need to take extra care to ensure that this exchange is handled with even more kindness, care and consideration.

Don't underestimate a kid's ability to detect a tense, unpleasant atmosphere. If you've spent five minutes in the company of children, you know just how sharp their "relationship antennae" can be. Our kids are much too precious to allow their memories of Christmas, or any other day for that matter, to become shredded, just like the shiny paper that covers the less important material items.

It's amazing how fast kids forget the gifts they receive from year to year. Most of the things we give them soon will disappear to the toy chest, the closet or under the bed.

Memories, both positive and negative, tend to remain with our kids for the rest of their lives.

Maybe the very best gift we can give our children this Christmas is a holiday to remember, years from now, that will make them smile.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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