Contrary to everything I tell other coParents, my husband and I moved very quickly when we decided to move in together. He had two kids, I had one, and we later added one of “ours” to the mix.

When we first started dating so many years ago he told me he had joint custody, but I thought that meant joint custody like I had joint custody—every other weekend and rarely spoke to my children’s father. I soon came to realize his version of joint custody was vastly different than mine. The kids went back and forth on a weekly basis and his ex was always around. We didn’t like each other—she still had a key to my house and used it and I was bathing her kids. After watching the kids we both squirmed each time we were in the same vicinity. We finally made a pact to be cordial for their sake, but it took years, mainly because we didn’t know better. We were living a new age coParenting parenting plan with an old fashion attitude about how you act after a break-up. It was a recipe for disaster.

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I remember the first time I took the kids out to buy a Christmas present for their mother. Their dad had left it to the last minute, and he needed my help. I thought he was crazy. When you buy a present for someone, you have to consider what they like. I didn’t know, so I had to ask the kids. This engaged them in a conversation about their mother and I watched as they lit up telling me her likes and dislikes—and that’s when the light bulb went on. It wasn’t me against her—it was all of us for the kids we all loved—and all of a sudden the chore I was assigned became a privilege.

As the kids and I walked down the aisle considering this or that for their mother’s present, my then 9 year-old bonus-daughter, gave me a hug. “I’m so excited! This is so fun!” And, rather than feel jealousy or anger, I was elated that this simple act made her so happy—and it became a ritual. Every holiday I took the kids out to buy a present for their mother we became closer—and so did their mom and me. She knew who was taking them to buy the presents and it changed her attitude about me, as well.

Divorce parents will testify how the holidays change after a break-up.  Days that you looked forward to for years become filled with negative emotions and you simply put on a happy face for the kids. Although I know this story is not for everyone, this simple act of putting the kids first changed everything, and in my case the holidays became something to look forward to again.

My kids taught me the meaning behind “peace on earth…good will to everyone.” It’s love.



About Jann Blackstone

Jann BlackstoneDr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation and is often called the “Relationship Expert for Today’s Relationships” because of her “real life, down-to-earth” approach to relationship problem solving. She is the author of six books on divorce and parenting, the most popular, the Ex-etiquette series featuring Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation. She is also the author of the Ex-etiquette syndicated column and a frequent guest or consultant on television and radio talk shows, including Good Morning America (ABC), The Today Show (NBC), Keeping Kids Healthy (PBS), the Early Show (CBS), and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has been the featured expert in many magazines, including, Child, Parents, Parenting, Newsweek, Family Circle, More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, BRIDES, Woman’s Day, and Working Mother Magazine.

In 1999, Dr. Jann founded and became the first Director of Bonus Families®, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working to change the way society views stepfamilies by supplying up-to-date co-parenting information via its Web site, counseling, mediation, and a worldwide support group network. They prefer to use the word “bonus” to the word step. Step implies negative things; however, a “bonus” is a reward for a job well done. “Bonus…a step in the right direction.”