Do the Kids Get Two Christmases?

Children want to feel safe, and years from now, they will not remember all the gifts they received, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Mom with reindeer ears giving gift to child
With Christmas quickly approaching, you might wonder how you and your co-parent will handle your children’s wish lists to Santa. Do the kids really get two Christmases now? This is a common question co-parents struggle with after they split. You want to provide a nice holiday for your children while they are with you, but it can quickly turn competitive. Depending on your financial situation, this could be an added burden to an already stressful situation. However, there is no need to worry, as there are many ways to give your children a wonderful holiday with your specific budget in mind. Before we get started with strategies for splitting Christmas expenses, check in on yourself. For all the joys the holidays bring, they can also cause stress. If you find the holidays are becoming unmanageable, consider seeking help. Whether you are looking for a coach or a therapist, resources exist to help you develop a plan of action or manage your emotions. You can research all of our service providers to ensure you have a support system that works for you. You cannot show up for your children in the right way if you are not well yourself. Be patient with yourself and invest in your new beginning. Now is a great time to put in the work to ensure you flow through the holidays with ease and start the new year on a strong foundation. Now let’s explore the ways you and your co-parent can handle Christmas.

Getting Started

  • Reflect

    How were holidays handled in the past? Every family handles gift giving in their own unique way and this naturally evolves as the children grow older. Nonetheless, there is typically a historical process in place to guide your decisions. Was there a typical budget for Christmas gifts? Did your family elect to have a “one big present” policy. Whatever the case may be, this could be a great jumping off point to ensure you have an outline of what was previously done and you can consider working as a team to keep this standard moving forward.
  • Plan

    With your own situation in mind, think of how you would like to split the holiday gift expenses with your co-parent. During this process, you should be cognizant of the holiday schedule. If you have not decided the holiday schedule, refer to Five Ways to Split the Holidays. You should walk away from the planning process with the following questions answered:
    • How would you prefer you and your co-parent split the Christmas wish list monetarily?
    • What is your budget for Christmas gifts?
    • What Christmas activities do you have planned with your children when they are with you for the holidays?
    These key questions will help you prepare for your conversation with your co-parent to ensure a smooth plan of action.

    Discuss

    If it is safe and legal to do so, schedule time with your co-parent to discuss how you will handle the holidays. Please remember, this is not a competition. You may be in a worse financial position than your co-parent and that is okay. Be respectful of boundaries. The goal is to provide your children with a nice holiday, not to beat your co-parent in a competition. Children need a safe supportive environment, while gifts are nice as a child, it is not the most important thing in the world. You should walk away from this conversation understanding how you’re going to split the wish list and how you’re going to celebrate the holiday when you have your children. These discussions can be tense and disagreements can arise. If you find it difficult to reach an agreement, consider engaging a parenting coordinator. When parents find themselves truly unable to communicate with each other, a co-parenting coordinator may be your solution. Co-parenting coordinators step in as a third party and advise how best to parent together.

    Strategies for Splitting Christmas The 50/50 Budget

    If you and your co-parent are equally able to handle Christmas expenses, this is the easiest go to strategy. Set your total budget for Christmas gifts and split it in half where each co-parent is expected to buy that dollar amount worth of gifts from the lists. Go through the lists and price out each of the items. From there, compare the budget to the cost of the list and make a plan of which items you will buy and which items your co-parent will buy. When you have the children, give them the gifts you were assigned to purchase as you celebrate the holiday with them.
    • Pros: You will each spend an equal amount on the children and you will not duplicate any items. This also allows you and your co-parent to provide a roughly “equal” gift giving experience during your individual holidays with your children.
    • Cons: It is tough to decide which parent is going to buy which gifts as some gifts might hold more significant value to the children.

    Buy on Your Budget

    If you and your co-parent come from different financial means, you may have to settle to buying on your own budget. This can be a tough approach as you don’t want to be out done by your co-parent, but sometimes that is a strategy that works best for co-parents. You have to remain cognizant of what is financially feasible and use that to guide your purchasing. It is tough to know you aren’t able to provide as many material goods to your children at Christmas than your co-parent, but at the end of the day the children will still get a nice Christmas. If you choose this strategy, it is best to still review your children’s wish list together and pick the items you’re able to afford from the list. This helps cut down on double gifts and allows you to review the total haul the children can expect to receive for the holiday season. If you know your co-parent is going to spend more, find inexpensive ways to make the holidays special on a budget. You could put together a fun activity at home for the kids that is memorable. Consider a day of baking holiday treats and a movie marathon to decompress during the holidays. These tactics, while simple, can become a memorable tradition. If you choose to implement this strategy, be understanding of your co-parent regardless of which side of the equation you’re on.
    • Pros: Each parent is able to buy gifts that are within their budget and pick items they think the children will enjoy.
    • Cons: This can cause issues between co-parents that believe one parent is trying to buy their children’s love. Conversely, it can cause one co-parent to be resentful of the other not providing enough for the children.

    The Big Gift

    Depending on your children’s ages, they may have out grown the era where they want a bunch of cheap plastic toys and prefer a large present with a bigger price tag. In this instance, consider coming together to purchase the large gift together for the children. You could consider small supplemental gifts at each of your separate holiday celebrations, but this shows unity. This works best for co-parents that have a decent working relationship. If you’re both splitting the cost of a large gift, you will both want to be there when they open it. Consider that if choosing to implement this approach.
    • Pros: Your children get the big gift they want and you are able to split the financial burden.
    • Cons: Each parent may not be able to afford their share of the big gift or the co-parents might not be comfortable being together.

    Gifts vs Experiences

    Maybe you and your co-parent think of the holidays in different ways. Perhaps one parent will have the Children on Christmas Day while the other parent will have the children the weekend following Christmas. If this is the case, you can get creative in how you gift. If one spouse really loves shopping and has always enjoyed gift giving, maybe they take the lead as the gift giver. If one spouse does not find value in material belongings and prefers quality time, then they could gift the children an experience. This strategy works well for parents with different budgets or parents that have different preferences on how they prefer to celebrate the holidays. Experiences can vary in complexity and expense. Something as simple as a live performance of the Nutcracker or as intricate as a trip to a tropical destination could be considered. With your budget in mind, think of creative ways to provide an experience. Is there a special winter activity your children love to do such as skiing or snowtubing? Are they interested in art or music? Perhaps a performance or a concert could work well. These gifts have added value as you can gift them tickets to a future event they will love and plan to attend with them. You get a burst of joy when you gift the item and another day in the future to look forward to together.
    • Pros: Each parent gets to pick what their perfect idea of a “gift” while giving the children what they would like for the holidays.
    • Cons: It can be tough to decide to pick either gifts or experiences especially if one parent has something elaborate planned.
    While these are some strategies for splitting Christmas, the opportunities are endless. Keep your budget in mind and find a way to celebrate the holiday. Regardless of how you decide to split holiday gift expenses, remember the point is to provide a great holiday for your children. Times are tough, so don’t sweat it if you cannot check off the list this year. Find ways to make the holidays enjoyable and celebratory, even if you need to do that on a budget. When your children are grown, they will understand and remember how hard your worked to make the season special. Years from now, they will not remember all the gifts they received, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Put your plan together and tackle the holidays in stride.
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