One kid, two households: How to do Christmas as a single parent

Splitting Up ChristmasSplitting Up ChristmasCelebrating Christmas or any holiday when your child has two homes can be complicated and crazy and also wonderful. I'd honestly be a sobby mess if I focused on the time during the holidays that my child is away from our home, so I choose (thoughtfully, purposefully and with help) to center on the wonderful, and roll with the crazy and the complicated.

Despite all the back and forth with visitation and celebrations with one part of the family and then another, a surprisingly smooth part of our two-house family has always been splitting up my son's Christmas list. Although nearly every detail of parenting is outlined legally in a joint agreement my ex-husband and I made and renegotiate with attorneys, I'm grateful that gift giving is something we've always been able to work out.

My son always creates some kind of list for Santa. But the interesting thing is the list he gives his dad often is slightly different from the one he gives me! Some big-ticket items overlap: This year, he's already gunning for big LEGO Batman sets. But he definitely knows his audience. He plays video games with his dad, so his Wii wants will probably be on the list he repeats 10 or 40 times to his father. And since he, the Not Boyfriend and I have drag-down, Army-crawl, full-throttle NERF gun battles, I am positive the only one he doesn't have (hello, Nerf Elite Hailfire) will be at the top of the Post-It list he leaves on my laptop.

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The more he pores over the holiday circulars packed with hot toys for the holidays, the longer his list will get. When the commercials blast the kid stations, the more ideas he will have to share with Santa.

It will be obvious, just as his customized list is for each parent, where many of the toys will be divvied up. But what about the other crossover Christmas toy wishes?

I usually call my son's dad and tell him which toys I'd like to buy. He tells me what he's thinking. In three minutes, we're done. The big deal here is being upfront about what Santa will deliver. After all, parents are silly and human, and can accidentally purchase the same gifts. But Santa knows better.

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Only once did Santa mess up unexpectedly. Luckily, my son was small enough to accept, "I bet Santa wanted you to have one of those at EACH HOUSE!"

Should this casual Christmas system stop working -- or should you have a different situation in your multi-holiday houses -- here are 6 suggestions for splitting up the child's wish list this season of giving:

1.) Celebrate at one house.
Together. Does this sound as Nutters McGee to you as it does when I even think one single second about all of us sitting 'round the ol' spray-painted green tree? OK, good. I am sure there are amicable co-parents out there who love being together with their offspring on special days. I salute you. I bake you peanut-butter Nutella cookies. If you can do this, you already have this division-of-toys thing figured out. Santaspeed to ye.

2.) Literally split the list.
Then draw gifts out of a hat. Tear up the kid's list and take turns drawing items that each parent will be in charge of giving. This will sound insane to parents who are together and those who exchange niceties, but some parents really need a simple and fair system for figuring this stuff out. Why not take it back to the basic luck of the draw? And if that's not enough, use Randomizer.com to assign gifts. (Oh, gaw, I hope no one needs to take it this far.)

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3.) Reduce the list.
I love the kid-giving motto of "One want, one need, one to wear, one to read." Maybe you and your child's other parent are minimalist enough to split those up (you get the want and wear this year, she takes the need and read) or maybe you each get four great gifts in those categories. The fewer the gifts, the less there is to negotiate and the fewer opportunities to overlap. Also, the less crap to put together/clean up/accidentally leave at Grandma's, requiring a 76-minute round-trip retrieval during a post-holiday exhaustion meltdown.

4.) Divide toys by categories.
Perhaps you've surprised yourself by becoming a LEGO-building master along with your little one. Maybe his dad has totally gotten into craft projects. Divvy the list (or predictable toys your kiddo will want/love) along those categories. You be in charge of LEGOS, he'll handle all the art supplies. If, by some miracle, your child is into the same thing from one year to the next, perhaps you take turns. And if this seems tedious, consider how nice it might be to take a break from the same old toy aisle for a year.

5.) Do the multi-faith thing in your family.
Many families celebrate more than one winter holiday. Embrace the loveliness and ritual of Christmas handled by one parent and Hanukkah by another, even if you all share the ceremonies, days and time together.

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6.) Give it up to the grace of giving.
If there's little communication or you can't agree or some blip in an otherwise congenial relationship, walk away from bickering about who will be the one who presents the kids with a puppy/electric guitar/Leap Pad2. Let the other parent have that moment. Find something else creative, unexpected, sentimental or that simply will do. It's not worth a fight or the energy of worrying. Your kid may not even remember where the magical gift of the year came from. And the important thing is that their face lights up - be the bigger person who basks in that rather than wishes it came from a toy you put on your credit card. Plus, I am quite sure that getting a surprise gift - one NOT on the list but is a suggestion from another mom or is on a hot list - will be a winner, no matter what.

The bigger lesson, the grace, the real gift is in a holiday without arguing, anger, old stuff, pettiness, stress. Of course, there is always some of that, no matter what kind of home (or homes) all of us have. However, we, as the parents (and especially as single parents) can go above and beyond to hold on to the spirit of the season and whatever holidays our families celebrate. After all, we are not just giving stuff, we are showing our kids how to be generous, loving, compassionate, kind, wise.

Even if we are handing over a giant spongy dart gun while we do it.

-By Jessica Ashley

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Jessica Ashley is author of the single-mom-in-the-city blog Sassafrass. She is a parenting and healthy-living expert, a former senior editor at Yahoo! Shine, and has contributed to AOL, ParentsConnect, CarePages, GalTime and Huffington Post. Jessica wears inappropriately high heels to the playground and is the mother of one boy. The proof is in the pile of Star Wars Lego guys at the bottom of her purse!

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