“This isn’t permanent,” my attorney said, holding up a parenting plan. “It’s more of a guide book of sorts until the kids can tell you where they want to go and what they want to do.”
I looked at him like he had begun levitating.
“Your parents were divorced, right? You know how it goes.”
But, you see, I really didn’t.
Growing up as a child of divorce in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I remember a lot of things about the holidays. One, there were a lot of them. Two, there was a ton of back and forth. And three, I never really got a say (until I could drive) about where I would end up. Most Christmas mornings I can remember sitting in a pile of gifts at my mom’s house and watching the clock until it was time to go to my dad’s. I was allowed to take one favorite gift with me for the day. I remember some years coming back to my mom’s Christmas night after spending the day with my dad’s family, and some years coming back to my mom’s on the 26th. But all I remember concretely is a constant back and forth and no autonomy over my own choices. I remember feeling tired and over-stimulated. I remember wishing that someone would just ask me what I wanted genuinely, without an accompanying guilt trip when I gave my answer.
If co-parenting in normal times is a frequent exercise in swallowing your own feelings for the betterment of your kids’ lives, co-parenting in the holiday season is an Olympic level exercise in doing the former.
While I find myself frequently limping through the doldrums and lamenting time apart from my children, I am also taken back to the times I was a child and wished that someone would just ask me what I wanted to do instead of forcing me to go along with “the schedule.” With that in mind, now that my older two are, well, older, I leave a lot of the holiday scheduling to them.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was away from my eight-year-old for 11 days because he decided he wanted to take his prolonged Covid-induced break spending time with his paternal grandparents who he rarely sees. It was a bummer to have Thanksgiving without him. I missed him. My family missed him. But he was safe and loved with family he is frequently separated from and enjoyed getting to switch up the holiday season this year.
Splitting time over Christmas has, in years past, felt brutal.
Comparison robbed me of my joy on a consistent basis. One year, while I sat alone on the sofa in a quiet house sipping coffee and watching The Durrells in Corfu, I scrolled through the socials and saw friends and acquaintances with full houses and seemingly full hearts and wept at my absolute solitude. But then, my kids came home eventually, filled with stories of toys and potential Santa sightings and joys of Christmas morning.
But, it’s not about me. As a mother it so rarely is.
It’s about them; their memories, their holiday magic, tiny fragments of a life and of a growing up experience that maybe is split between two houses but isn’t void of all the things that make Christmas as a child so wonderful. Their joy is my joy and giving them the freedom to be where they want and with whom they want to be is so important in shaping a childhood that they look back upon fondly instead of feeling the need to improve upon for their own children some day.
I won’t be alone this Christmas morning, but my kids will be at their dads’ and that’s okay. They’ll come back, we’ll have our own time and our own traditions, and next year I’ll ask them where they want to be and for how long just like this year. Parenting solo is a minefield of second guessing and hoping you’re doing the right thing and wondering constantly about every decision. In letting my kids have some control of their own schedules, I feel pretty confident that at least this decision is 100% on the right track.