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Don't treat Second Christmas like second-best Christmas

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One of the most challenging things about divorce - if you have children and if you love the holidays - is getting used to the holiday schedule that comes with divorce. If you follow standard orders in the Texas Family Code, you'll be familiar with Dec. 28 at noon. That's when custody transfers from one parent to the other.

For the parent who is dropping off his or her children, they've had Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together, and memories of a wonderful holiday together are still fresh. For the parent who has been without his or her children, the 28th can't come soon enough, but also presents the challenge of creating a "Second Christmas" several days after Christmas proper has passed.

There's also, of course, the knowledge that comes with that Dec. 28 dropoff: The shoe will be on the other foot the next year, and the parent dropping off the children will not only be without the children until winter break is over, but won't have the children the next Christmas.

Here's the specific passage in Section 153.314 that deals with Christmas and New Year's:

(1) the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child in even-numbered years beginning at 6 p.m. on the day the child is dismissed from school for the Christmas school vacation and ending at noon on December 28, and the managing conservator shall have possession for the same period in odd-numbered years

(2) the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child in odd-numbered years beginning at noon on December 28 and ending at 6 p.m. on the day before school resumes after that vacation, and the managing conservator shall have possession for the same period in even-numbered years

The first thing you should do as soon as you get your children's school calendar is check the winter break dates. That gives you an idea of how long your parenting time will be with your children, and it will dictate a lot about what you can do during that time. Is it possible to do a trip? Is it better to create a special holiday at home? If it's a five-day or six-day block of time vs. a nine-day or ten-day block of time, it's a big difference.

It's also a good idea to get your children's input as to what they want to do, and depending on how old they are, you can even involve them in the planning. While you shouldn't put pressure on yourself to match the actual Christmas celebration they had with their other parent, you also shouldn't assume that it's going to be second-best just because it's not actually on Christmas. Think about things you could do that might evolve into your own special traditions, whether you celebrate on Dec. 25 or Dec. 28.

The most important thing to keep in mind about the holiday season is the think to keep in mind about your family after divorce. It's a changed family, obviously, but think of it as changed rather than lessened. You have the opportunity, as a parent, to connect with your children in a new way. It's not inherently better or worse, and while there's going to be a sense of loss that it's not both parents and the children together - especially in the first years after the divorce - you have the chance to celebrate your new, remade family. And that, and not the date you're doing it, is the absolute, most important thing.

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