David Murphy hasn't started shopping for his two boys yet, and he knows he had better get started. The divorced father of two boys, ages 11 and 14, has custody for a full week around Christmas Day this year and needs to get a tree and start buying presents.
Every other year, Murphy (who didn't want his real name used to protect his children's privacy) doesn't have Christmas custody. So, he tries to do something completely different. Divorced for four years, he has traveled with his mother to visit England, where she was born. He has joined his father and stepmother on a trip to Carmel, California.
He hasn't crashed his ex-wife's Christmas Day plans, even though she lives only three miles away from his home in suburban Virginia.
"We try not to mess with the schedule when we don't have to because it's easier on both parties," said Murphy. "As each party has moved on, it happened to work that way. We try not to interfere with each other."
With the U.S. Census Bureau counting nearly 4 million divorced parents in this country, many parents are facing the challenges of negotiating holiday custody schedules, battles over presents, new significant others and simply the pain of being apart.
Whether you have the children for Christmas or not this year, going through a separation or divorce means giving up the dream of a perfect Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa. With the fantasy of the perfect nuclear family obviously over, it can be lonely even with the kids -- but much worse without them. Facing the first holiday since the split, how do people ever survive this holiday season? And eventually even thrive?
Many like Murphy -- who credits his ex-wife with keeping the focus on their sons' well-being during the divorce -- have found a new way of parenting beyond divorce. Here are some things that work:
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