#36 – Two Christmases

Two Christmases

Holidays are often a source of conflict for coparents. In this episode, Linda and Ron discuss how to think about the holidays in a way that puts your children first.

Audio and Video Transcript

Ron Gore 00:16
What kid does not love two Christmases

Linda VanValkenburg 00:19
That has been the one bonus to ever come out of any separation or divorce, I think for any child, bless their hearts. Article test

Ron Gore 00:27
And this podcast has is being released on November 28. So we just came through Thanksgiving. And it is a time that is fraught with peril for coparenting,

Linda VanValkenburg 00:37
Ty- pically, Thanksgiving passes with fewer conflicts, but Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas, the whole holiday season, the two weeks and kids are off of school, the whole nine yards.

Ron Gore 00:50
And it’s yeah, it’s fraught. For all sorts of reasons. There’s something – the sentimentality of the holiday season, kicks up all of these feelings that maybe you can sort of suppress during the year.

Linda VanValkenburg 01:02
Well, that goes back to when the parents themselves were children and the family traditions that they held there and their family may still perpetuate. And so it’s it’s really, I mean, maybe if the parents are not that interested in it, they’re still trying to please their parents, the grandparents or the great grandparents. And, of course, those people all want to see the children. And so there can be a lot of pressure and expectation put on the coparents from both sides.

Ron Gore 01:35
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So let’s focus in on how people can practically make their holiday experience as coparents better, which is the focus of this episode. So first thing is it depends on where you are in your coparenting journey, because you may have an order in place, or you may not. And so if you do have an order in place, what I usually tell my folks is that order is great as a backup. If you guys can agree to something better based on change circumstances and something you find works better than you thought it would when the orders put in place, then if you can make agreements, do it in writing in advance, that’s wonderful.

Linda VanValkenburg 02:18
That would be great. I don’t know many people that think they can veer off the course of the order, or they’re afraid to go there, I think because they might not be able to agree or if, you know, at certain stages of divorce again, if if they bring up what they want, they feel sure they won’t get it right the other side.

Ron Gore 02:41
But if you can, it’s great. And if you can’t reach agreements, and you have an order in place, then it’s easy, you just fall back to what the order says. And you will find, typically, you’ll find that the universe doesn’t come to an end. If you follow the order, and what it says about holidays.

Linda VanValkenburg 02:59
Sometimes it’s even easier a lot of people find just to follow it so that for all the years of the tiles minority, you can know when you’re going to have what do you know, you could you could put a bid in the calendars from that point on.

Ron Gore 03:15
Yeah. And so our focus for today is not going to be on following court orders because that’s easy. You just follow the court order.

Linda VanValkenburg 03:22
If you read them.

Ron Gore 03:23
Well, no, well, step one. You gotta read the order,

Linda VanValkenburg 03:27
and preferably by at least Thanksgiving read, the order. And because I know that sounds like it’s crazy, but I have seen so many people, you know, even being a PC myself being in a PC’s office, you know, where the PC is getting called to interpret the order down to Christmas Eve,

Ron Gore 03:47
right? So make sure you know what the order says, Follow the order. If there’s an order in place, you can agree otherwise, that presumably should be as easy as it gets. So we’re going to focus instead on the stuff that’s not so easy. So first off, if you either don’t have an order in place, or if you do and you want to try to diverge from the order to do something different. What would be from your perspective, the place to start your thought process in terms of how to structure the Christmas to New Year holiday visitation for the kids in their best interest.

Linda VanValkenburg 04:28
As far as the schedules that seemed to have worked the best over the years or?

Ron Gore 04:33
What are the considerations in your mind that a parent co parents should keep in mind when trying to come up with an agreed holiday schedule? So for example, let me throw something out there okay. Is it the fact that if a kid doesn’t wake up in a parent’s house on Christmas morning to open presents that they won’t enjoy a quote “Christmas morning experience” with that parent.

Linda VanValkenburg 05:02
now, and in fact, no, that’s not true. They will enjoy it there. But they can also enjoy that same experience at the other house just like your Talladega Talladega Nights intro. I mean, how instantly those kids responded is pretty much how kids would love to have even teenagers that are used away kind of not impressed by much of anything. Two Christmases is pleasing to even a teenager. And so it’s how you sell it. It’s how you put it across. And more than anything, I think it applies to how the adult is getting their head around, maybe not having the day, you know, to celebrate.

Ron Gore 05:47
So where I get the most pushback from parents on this is for kids who are really young and believe in Santa Claus. And so they say, “Well, how am I going to explain to them that I’m getting presents and Santa Claus wasn’t there? Because it was before Christmas?” So how do you explain that?

Linda VanValkenburg 06:04
I did that for years as a stepmom with a little one, she was only two and a half when our dad nice, got involved. And I mean, she bought it hook line and sinker because it’s just a story anyway, you know, and you can amend

Ron Gore 06:20
Linda, come on!

Linda VanValkenburg 06:23
So you can add to the story, because Santa knows all things and he knows where the child is

Ron Gore 06:29
You’re kind of breaking my heart. Are you’re telling me it’s not real?

Linda VanValkenburg 06:33
Well, so the the story can be that Santa knows that you’re at dad’s house on this this weekend, you know, we usually had it the weekend before Christmas, unless was Christmas was right next to a weekend qnd we were going to have her the weekend because we didn’t get the the whole week, you know, before or after Christmas, like most parents do the holidays we just had the weekend that we happen to have anyway, that happened to fall around Christmas. And so her dad did the whole, you know, sleigh bells outside the, the living room and her hearing them and thinking that it was really Santa arriving. And you know, I mean, it did not matter. We did that until she was probably eight before she started going “really?”, you know. So it’s it’s a wonderful thing. And then you know, we always plan the, the presence to be something that that would, you know, enrich her experience of being in our house and, and it’s just they totally love it. And then they’ve got more time to play with those things and enjoy those things before they get back to the house.

Ron Gore 07:46
What I’m hearing you say is, it’s all about the framing.

Linda VanValkenburg 07:50
Yes. But I think it kind of is in lots of things with coparenting.

Ron Gore 07:54
And setting the expectations in advance and not making the wrong things too precious.

Linda VanValkenburg 07:59
Oh, now, no. And so many times, we think that our child just can’t live without a particular tradition, when maybe it’s a little dearer to our heart that it actually is to the three year old right then.

Ron Gore 08:12
Which is valid, right? So you, as the parent have the right to hold on to good memories and traditions and try to implement them and pass them down to your kids. So that’s really sort of the next issue that comes up a lot is, and you touched on this a little bit as a second ago. My family has always done X, you know, my family has always gone to the evening Christmas Eve service at church, and it’s really important to my family and always has been my children’s grandparents and cousins are going to be there. And it’s very special in his family. They don’t even care about church, they’re not going to be in church on Christmas Eve. So I need to get the kids every Christmas Eve and he can get them Christmas day after the kids wake up and play with their toys. So what’s your thought about that kind of situation?

Linda VanValkenburg 09:02
Well, I’ve actually seen some parents that will agree to that because the odd dad really could care less, and he thinks there might be some redeeming value in it to the kids. And so he’s fine with that. On the other hand, maybe dad’s family likes to do something secular on Christmas Eve, and he wants the children there for that, you know. And so that’s where I think most judges would probably decide to, you know, alternate the years so that you each get to do something that’s really important to you with your children on every other year at least.

Ron Gore 09:35
Right? And just because one parent maybe acquiesced to the other parent’s family traditions during the relationship, and the children were exposed to that doesn’t mean that once that relationship is done, the other parent needs to continue to acquiesce to the other parents traditions and there’s justifications for not doing that. I think it’s important to try to figure out how to communicate that without denigrating each other’s traditions, because that’s where the increased conflict comes in, I think.

Linda VanValkenburg 10:11
And then the children are many times used as a pawn in that where the parent has totally lost sight of whether the tradition is important to the child or whether it’s more important to the adult. And frequently, just saying, the children are all about the gifts. They really are. Sometimes they’re about the food, but they’re really more about the gifts. And so it’s not so much about where they get them, even who they get them from, they kind of forget who that was pretty quickly. But as I was telling you a while ago, I’ve I’ve done therapeutic visitation for so many years with with parents and kids who, you know, it doesn’t always get tied up neatly in the legal system right before the holidays. And so many times we were celebrating birthdays or Christmases in my office, and it still had a lot of joy attached to it. You know, sometimes the parent would bring food associated with it, you know, a dad might bring something his mother always fix the the kids loved for Christmas, or mom might make her favorite bread or dessert that the kids loved. And you know it, we had a lot of fun with it, even though it was in a very strange environment to be celebrating Christmas.

Ron Gore 11:34
Well, and that gets back to being all about the framing. Because you can have a wonderful Christmas, you know, skiing and Aspen, or being in Switzerland, and you know, having hot cocoa in a chalet in the Alps. And that could be an amazing Christmas.

Linda VanValkenburg 11:50
Most of us never experienced that.

Ron Gore 11:52
Right. You could also have a Christmas somewhere in a hot, difficult, dangerous environment. And that could be an amazing Christmas. It’s just about the moment and the feeling and the being with the family. And I think sometimes we I think that sometimes when you folks get divorced, they feel so guilty for what they’ve taken from the kids they perceive. And they have a sense of loss. And they’re mourning what they had anticipated Christmases would be like, as their children grew up. And so they they sacrifice the possibility of the best today they could have on the altar of this potential Christmas experience they could have had in a different universe in which they didn’t get split up. And that’s a hard one to overcome to stay in the reality and make the most of it, which may actually turn out to be best.

Linda VanValkenburg 12:56
Which also brings up another whole issue with try – one one may try to hold on to every single holiday routine ritual tradition that they did have as a first family. And the other may totally throw it all out or could care less. I’d say traditionally, it tends to be the mother who’s trying to still hold on everything and the father who’s like, Oh, are we supposed to put up a tree you know? And so that’s something else though I do find just so you know, that children thoroughly enjoy doing the the traditions that were in the first family with both households, you know, especially if there’s a older girl in the family she’s gonna love decorating dad’s tree and

Ron Gore 13:48
Because now she gets to do it the way she wants.

Ron Gore 13:51
And frequently that’s more the case, you got it.

Ron Gore 13:55
She’s the lady of the house now, which actually brings us into the issue of when it’s no longer just the mother and the father from the first family. And now we’re introducing significant others and step families with their own independent traditions. And then also with maybe a stepmother, who now wants to impose her traditions on the entire household

Linda VanValkenburg 14:19
And decorate the tree all by herself

Ron Gore 14:21
And decorate the tree.

Linda VanValkenburg 14:22
I’ve heard many of those young ladies in the family that might have had a Christmas to do their own thing at dad’s house who suddenly have had that taken from them too. And so one of the best things you could do as a step parent, especially a stepmother is to very much support the kids doing it their way. Who cares what your tree looks like, if you can just let them enjoy the process and be involved in it. They will like you a whole lot more.

Ron Gore 14:53
Yeah, now what if you’re a step parent who has your own children and you’re bringing them in and so your children who you are bringing into this family unit have experienced their own traditions. And now those traditions may be butting heads with the traditions of your significant other who has children. That gets so complicated.

Linda VanValkenburg 15:16
I think this is why a new tradition over the past I’m gonna say at least five years has been households having multiple Christmas trees.

Ron Gore 15:26
Yeah, we have multiple Christmas trees that are still together. And I’m in charge of designing neither

Linda VanValkenburg 15:31
I figured that, yeah, that’s because your wife is such a cool artist, but many children tell me now in step families, that they each kid has their own tree, you know, they’re small, but they each have their own tree that reflects their personality. And, you know, stores like Hobby Lobby are only quite happy. To support all that. I was just strolling through there last night, I go, like, wow, who knew there were this many ways to do a tree. So it’s, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. And then in doing so you can create your own blended traditions, and so forth, too. I think it’s important to listen to each person, you know, even even when the first family couple are coming together to make their own new family traditions and so forth. It’s important for those two people to talk about, you know, what, what was important in your family of origin? What was important in mine? Is there anything that I really don’t want to give up? Is there anything I really don’t want you to do? You know, is there something that in your faith is is important to you? That I don’t even understand? You know, I mean, occasionally, you find people from drastically different faiths together that need to know where not to step on each other’s toes, and so forth. And so then you’ve got that that a child may have grown up with. And then when there are new people introduced to the to the family, in the form of a step family, you’ve got multiple traditions to be talking about. And so I think it’s very important, once again, about now the end of November to be talking about, you know, if you’re a new step family to be talking about those kinds of things, what is very important to, even the biological parent might be surprised at what the child of whatever age may go “No, it’s really important that we have pumpkin creamer in our coffee.” Yeah, because they get to drink coffee right there because it’s mainly the pumpkin creamer that they’re tasting, you know, or it’s it’s just something that they they you didn’t think was a big deal to them, but umm it was and you didn’t realize it because you know, maybe the other parent that’s no longer in that household was facilitating that.

Ron Gore 17:58
I think it’s so great. So a little behind the scenes I’ve gotten in Linda’s head with the pumpkin creamer, because I promised her pumpkin creamer in her coffee tomorrow. I can tell she likes that.

Linda VanValkenburg 18:08
Yeah, yep.

Ron Gore 18:10
But so much of what we’re talking about here gets back to what is important in all of these situations is communication in advance. Taking into consideration every person’s honestly held beliefs and preferences, setting expectations appropriately, reframing as positively as possible, and maybe learning to be able to celebrate traditions that you weren’t familiar with, and doesn’t make them wrong. And maybe you can just sort of add to the traditions that you enjoy.

Linda VanValkenburg 18:51
Because when children are complaining about Christmas, yes to all the above, when children are complaining about Christmas to me, it’s when everything as they knew it in the first family got wiped out. It died along with the family. And they are now re-grieving the loss of the first family because they’ve lost all those traditions that once again, maybe the parents didn’t even realize were a big deal.

Ron Gore 19:19
It comes out of the blue. I mean, things may have been stable for a while and you feel like things are going well. And it can be kind of disconcerting for the parents all of a sudden, remember, oh, things aren’t perfectly solid. These are there going to be these issues that pop up periodically. It could be a sense memory from a dish. It could be a holiday, it could be a TV show that comes on.

Linda VanValkenburg 19:40
But we always – children as I’m reconciling them with a parent, almost always do the after they’ve they’ve been, you know, heard and apologized to and so forth for anyway they felt hurt. I always know we’ve turned the bend on reconciliation when they start saying remember when and that’s what you will listen for with your children now and don’t get defensive, you know if they go remember when we used to have, like you said certain thing to eat, or a certain you know, they used to drive over to Rhema to see the Christmas lights or they used to you know, it’s it’s the remember winds that are a clue to you that, oh, they want us to do that.

Ron Gore 20:30
And even as adults like I remember when Rebecca and I the first time I had like a Christmas dinner at her family’s house, cornbread became an issue, because her family makes cornbread that tastes like they intentionally made it as dry as possible. And then they put stuff on it that should never hit cornbread and should never be eaten at all

Linda VanValkenburg 20:58
Such as?

Ron Gore 20:58
Like black eyed peas.

Linda VanValkenburg 21:00
Oh my goodness.

Ron Gore 21:00
I can’t stand black eyed peas, but the those and so to some of my family too. I like corn bread that tastes like it should have ice cream on it because it’s so sweet corn bread. And it was such it wasn’t like a huge problem. But it just really struck me. I’m in extended family cornbread, right where they don’t know how to make cornbread.

Linda VanValkenburg 21:23
And then when you start using cornbread to make dressing with, yeah, many parts of the country, they don’t do that. And in this area, we do a lot of that. And so yeah, the corn bread can lead to other problems.

Ron Gore 21:36
And that’s just like a little thing. But it’s just an example of here I am thinking I’m gonna have cornbread, and instead I have something that came from I don’t know, I’m not gonna say it just wasn’t my expectation. And it took me a while to reframe it as “Oh, aren’t they? I’m glad that they get to enjoy whatever that is, even though it’s not cornbread.

Linda VanValkenburg 21:59
And if I were there I would have had the cornbread with the black eyed peas with ketchup on top.

Ron Gore 22:04
Well, we all have our problems. So and to sort of bring this to a close, and we could talk about this forever – and in fact, I think we were talking and putting this together that we may add not for this holiday season. But afterwards, I think we’ll put together a holiday themed course because there’s so much as we were talking, we just had to stop talking and start doing the podcast or this would be two hours long.

Linda VanValkenburg 22:29
And it can apply to I mean, we’ve just taken advantage of it being this time of year, but it can apply to birthdays and how they’re celebrated. It can apply to a lot of things. And not not every order says every parent gets every holiday. on the day.

Ron Gore 22:46
You’re exactly right, we should I think what we’ll do is we’ll create a like a special events or special occasions course and how to deal with those in the different occasions have different implications as well that we need to think about. But for this to close this out, I think what we’ll say I’m thinking of it and correct me if I should be thinking about differently, but going from the outside in. So first with the two households with the two coparents. See, if you want to do certain things that may not be in your order if you have an order. And if you can agree in advance, great talk in advance, take each family’s traditions into consideration, take the children’s view of the traditions into consideration. And if you can make a plan that accommodates everything, oh my gosh, that’s perfect. If you can’t, see what you can accommodate, maybe you can accommodate some things for one person one year and one person the next year. But try to work that out. Don’t tell the kids in advance what to expect until you reached an agreement between the parties. And if you can’t reach an agreement, then if you have an order in place, hopefully then you just fall back on the order. But the important thing is is to try to be respectful of everybody’s traditions and not set expectations for the children which are not going to come to fruition

Linda VanValkenburg 24:03
And another thing I’d add is that you know not that it you do everything exactly as the children want it to be done because once again, they’re focused on gifts, but do take the time to talk to them about what their memories are. And take a clue from that about what you want to make a priority in your home. And then depending on what stage you may be in have a separation perhaps you’re in a an apartment with hardly anything there. So there are still lots of ways to make it festive and fun. And I think so many times when I listen to the children, the fun has been totally eradicated from the day except for the getting of the toys and they can move on and let the adults go back to whatever they’re gonna do. But it’s it’s really important to celebrate with your kids and enjoy making memories with them.

Ron Gore 25:03
Try not to destroy the holiday for your kids, just because you’re in conflict with your coparent. And I love the idea of at least trying to find one thing, maybe one important thing to your kid that you can incorporate into your plans to have them have a bit of consistency as they transition to a holiday season that’s going to be different than any one that they’ve experienced before if it’s the first time. And if you haven’t had the opportunity yet to hit coparentacademy.com check us out. We’ve got tons of courses that are available for you. You can purchase them individually as courses or in bundles of courses or you can even get access to everything we’ve got for the low low price of $185 per year for 12 months of access. So check it out, go to coparentacademy.com We provide the education that parents need at a price that they can afford.