Daughter (laughing): “Hey Mom, remember that first Christmas after dad was arrested?”
Daughter (laughing harder): “We were sitting there and I’ll Be Home for Christmas was playing. It’s my favorite Christmas song and I was so happy. It ended and then… (now doubled over and laughing so hard she can’t get the words out) …you said…Well that was fucking depressing!”
I told my kids from the beginning of this craziness that I was going to screw some stuff up. Well, there you go.
The holidays that first year were rough. We were in the same house where we’d spent the prior thirteen Christmases. We put up the same decorations. Tried to engage in the same holiday traditions. We forced smiles and acted like everything was ok.
Yeah, that’s the year my daughter ended up face down on the kitchen floor laugh-sobbing. (We took pictures to use against her later.) It was a disaster.
Year Two we were in a different house. We bought a few new decorations and mixed them in with the old ones. We tried to start new traditions. We failed. Our hearts weren’t in it. We just wanted to get through it.
So now we’re in Year Three and there are some new challenges. My daughters now have the option of splitting holiday time with their dad. Although our situation may be a little more unique than some other families of divorce, it still comes down to the kids having to decide where to go when, for how long, and will mom and dad be hurt/angry/upset with their choices.
When children of divorce are young, parents or the court system make those decisions for them. When they are older, those choices end up squarely on the child’s shoulders. It doesn’t matter if the child is 16 or 26 or 36 – that is some significant pressure. For kids of divorce, choosing “holiday time” feels tantamount to choosing sides. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who’s the favorite? Who’s the most fun?
Who won’t make them feel the guiltiest with their choice?
I’m trying hard not to be a parent who guilts their children into doing things. There’s no doubt that I make mistakes often (see above story), but I do my best to be honest and transparent without leaking over into “gentle nudging” or full blown manipulation. Here’s an example…
I couldn’t care less about Thanksgiving. I mean, I love my family and all, but I’d much rather see them on a random Tuesday night than spend all damn day waiting for the turkey to be done. It’s just not that important to me. This Thanksgiving would be the first holiday that my daughters would have an opportunity to spend the day with their dad. I could tell that they were anxious about making a choice to be with me or him. So, I let them off the hook. I told them that Thanksgiving is not a warm, fuzzy holiday for me. That I would be happy to hang at home with Izzy and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Ok, that part was a lie. I hate parades. But I was being altruistic and sacrificial and such. It was necessary for the narrative.)
Their relief was visible. That they didn’t have to worry about me – about how I would feel or that I would be hurt or angry – was freeing for them. Now “all” they had to worry about was how things were going to go on that day with their dad.
So the night before Thanksgiving, we made a fort in the living room and watched Netflix comedy specials and ate snacks and laughed and hugged and told stories and lived our lives.
I think we found our new tradition.