Double the Presents, Double the Fun? The Truth About Sharing Custody During the Holidays

As far back as I can remember, Santa visited me and my sisters two times every Christmas. It was the perk of growing up in a divorced family. “Double the presents, double the fun.” At least this is how it was sold to three little girls being shipped on an airplane from one parent to the other on December 26.

This was my childhood. Twice a year we flew across the country to spend time with our father one-week at Christmas and a few weeks in the summer. I am not complaining. My childhood was good. Sometimes I wished for a more traditional family, but I am grateful for each and every experience that helped make me who I am. I love my family, through blood and through marriage.

Growing up I never thought I would also split my holidays as a parent. But, life is unpredictable, messy and sometimes involves tough decisions. I have been splitting every holiday with the father of my 13-year-old since our son was four-years-old. Unlike my father, my son’s Dad lives locally and has joint custody.

And even though my husband and I get along well with my son’s father and his step-mother (you will often find all four of us cheering him on together at sporting events and special events), it is not easy. In fact, it is the only part of the holidays that I loathe. The part that makes me sad.

Have you ever had to eat Christmas dinner with every member of your family except your first-born son? On the outside you laugh at the jokes and join in on the conversations. You enjoy your other children and share the annual “Christmas Crackers.” But, inside you feel a piece of you is missing. On the inside you feel guilty for having fun without him there. You want to be selfish and keep him with you every day and every night, especially during the holidays.

Then you remember that being a parent means putting your children first no matter how difficult. Sharing the holidays is not about you or your son’s father. It is about giving your child both his parents. It’s about allowing your son to learn the traditions of both sides of his family.

So, I sacrifice just as his father sacrifices on the days he is not with him.

Over the years we have developed a fairly smooth holiday schedule. My son is with me on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, but heads to his Dad’s in the late afternoon on Christmas day. We alternate New Years Eve and his father has him exclusively for Easter. This is our world and it sounds complicated, but we make it work for our son.

We make it work, but it took years to accept that this is what it means to have a shared custody arrangement. It means difficult decisions and careful planning. It means e-mailing calendars and important dates to “reserve” our son’s time for family parties and celebrations. It means holding off on getting our Christmas tree (or rushing to do so) when we know our son will be home. It means racing to book summer vacations well in advance so we can “call” that time first.

It also means raising my younger children to understand that their older brother is sometimes home and sometimes not. They ask why he has two houses, two bedrooms and four parents. They do not think it is strange, but they don’t fully understand yet either.

Remarkably, my oldest has never complained. He has never said, “it’s not fair” because this is his normal. This is how it has always been as far back as he can remember. My only hope is that he knows how much he is loved by me, by his father, by his step-father, and by his step-mother.

Now I understand why parents sell “double the presents, double the fun.” Why would we want to raise them to know our truth. The part we shield from them. The part my parents shielded from me. The part we shield from almost everyone – the sadness and guilt that hides behind the presents.

Were you raised in a divorced family? Are you sharing custody of your child and splitting the holidays? Please share your experiences by leaving a comment or joining the discussion on the Tiny Steps Mommy Facebook page.



Nicole Dash is a writer, blogger and business owner who lives in the suburbs outside Washington, DC with her husband and four children. She started her career as a journalist and copy editor. She also managed public relations and corporate communications for a national franchise company, but in 2006 started a child care business. In 2012, she launched Tiny Steps Mommy, a lifestyle and parenting blog that quickly gained a following and connected her to an expansive group of women-owned businesses. In 2013, she started a digital marketing consulting business that focused on growing community in an authentic way. Through those connections she was inspired to open Play, Work or Dash, a coworking space that also offers onsite childcare up to three hours per day. It is where like-minded professionals pursue their business goals with the extra level of support parents desire; a place where you "bring your kids to work." She is an active member of the Washington, DC blogger community. She has been published on The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode and Pop Sugar.