Today is Halloween, and it marks the first time I’ve ever missed trick-or-treating with my kids.
It’s only the start of the crazy busy holiday season, but I’m already dreading the heart-wrenching task of splitting time with my kids during what should be “the most wonderful time of the year.” My social media feed is brimming with happy families engaged in Christmas-card-photo-worthy activities, and it serves as a constant reminder that our family is divided, and I will only enjoy half of those opportunities with my children this year. I’m still newish to this post-divorce lifestyle; this will be my second split holiday season. I decided to reach out to some “veterans” to get their advice on how best to handle the split holidays that are upon us (and what kinds of mistakes to avoid).
Here are the best bits of wisdom that I gleaned:
Make new traditions. One mom told me that during that first Christmas morning when she was going to be home alone without her kids, her parents took her out to Pigeon Forge to have a fun, festive morning (intended to be a distraction from her loneliness), and it quickly became a regular tradition! It can be really sad to just sit at home alone in a quiet house looking at photos of past holidays together. It’s best to force yourself to get out and try something new!
Be flexible. There’s nothing wrong with eating a nice turkey dinner with your family the weekend before Thanksgiving. Take a look at your schedule in advance and figure out a way to make time for the holiday that you want to celebrate. We can’t always control the flexibility or attitude of our extended family, but as the old proverb states, we can “have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change” and just do our best with the rest of it.
Make compromises. One mom who grew up in a divorced household says that she allows her older children to choose where they would like to spend the holidays. If Dad is going on a cruise for Christmas this year, there is no reason that her adolescent son has to miss out simply because it’s her turn to have Christmas. When she looks back on her own experience growing up, she laments being shuffled back and forth during the holidays and resents the fact that no one ever thought to ask her what she would like to do during her time off of school. It’s a hard decision to willingly give up time with your children, for sure, but your kids will appreciate having the freedom to choose.
Avoid “playing chess” with your children. Along the same lines, another mom that I spoke with who grew up in a divorced home, discussed how she felt very aware that her parents were using their time with her to get back at each other. Holidays felt like just another opportunity for her to be used as a pawn in the toxic game that they would play with each other. I’ve even caught myself a few times giving my child a message to relay to his dad, and sometimes he’ll protest, “But what if I can’t remember to tell him?” Usually I’m able to catch my mistake and say, “You know what? Nevermind. I’ll tell him that myself. That’s not your job.”
Remember that every blended family is different. Neither my ex-husband or I have gotten remarried as of yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m not already gathering advice from blended families to try to learn how to handle that future situation in a healthy way. The underlying truth that I’ve gathered is that every blended family seems to be very different. Some families are really adamant about gathering together during certain holidays or events so that no one has to split time at all. Others probably can’t imagine having exes and new spouses co-mingling and exchanging gifts under the same roof because their dynamic is just too contentious. The best policy is generally to put your children first. If your kid wants you both to come to the school’s Christmas Open House, you should both do your best to attend and get along for an hour to make your kid happy. If your child would feel awkward and uncomfortable having you both together in the same room, then you should figure out a way to split that time without involving your kid in the discussion. Set boundaries where you need to set boundaries, and try not to feel guilt or regret when you can’t avoid missing an event.
Try new things. Above all, remember to get out and try new things during this upcoming holiday season. It can feel heartbreaking and even depressing to be alone on a holiday when your family has typically been all together. Find a way to surround yourself with people and try new things that you’ve never done. Go to a restaurant on Thanksgiving! Host a “Friendsgiving” dinner. Ask around for an invite to another family’s holiday celebration (they would probably be happy to “adopt” you)! Get dressed up in sequins and go to a snazzy downtown venue to ring in the new year. Try to remember that your kids are likely not pining for you while you’re gone, so there is no shame in distracting yourself with something fun to avoid pining for them.