For the newly-divorced family, events like high-school graduation, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Spring Break are a cause of additional anxiety as you figure out how your established traditions need to change and how you can still honor the occasion as a family. Sarah’s parents divorced over twenty-five years ago and as she shares here, their celebrations have evolved over time. Here’s Sarah:
I celebrated Christmas with my mom. My dad really just doesn’t do holidays.
But this last Christmas, my mom actually came out to me, from Oregon where she’d moved back to some years ago. I had my dad and his girlfriend, and my mom for dinner on Christmas Eve, and it was really nice. We did a gift exchange and it was very sweet.
My dad has been with his current girlfriend for five years now, and she’s awesome. My mom and I like her more than we like my dad! She has an apartment in New York City on Riverside Drive, and it’s beautiful. I stayed with my mom over Spring Break and I said, “Mom, let’s go to NYC, we have this place to stay, it’s free, let’s just go and have a great trip.” My mom agreed and we stayed at the apartment. My dad thought that was weird, but none of the rest of us thought it was weird. So it’s good.
Not having to do two separate events has made it easier, no two separate Christmases, two separate holidays… “This is the holiday, this is when I’m going to spend time with dad” or “this is when I’m going to spend time with mom.” It was definitely easier.
The Divorce Coach Says
While Sarah talks here about Christmas time, this is still a very timely topic because we have college and high school graduations, July 4th and Memorial Day.
I don’t think there is any one right way to do this – again, so much of this depends on your own family dynamics except that whatever you do, it has to make sense. For example, trying to split the day in two so your child can spend time with both you and your ex, might work for you but how’s it going to make your child feel? How do you feel when your day is on a tight schedule?
Could you and your ex put aside your differences and both go for dinner with your child on his birthday? If you are hosting a birthday party for your child, for most kids, it would be very meaningful to have both parents there. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, explore why? If the ideal of your ex being in your home is making you anxious, then could you go out for dinner or host your child’s party at another venue, such as a bowling alley? You can apply the same reasoning to graduation.
I’m not the best model of sharing occasions. My ex and I did co-host birthday parties but we’ve always done separate gift exchanges for Christmas with one of us celebrating on Christmas Eve and another on Christmas Day. Neither of us have extended family close by so that’s made it easy to orchestrate this and I think too, for the children they’ve always seen it as a chance to have two Christmases. It was only last year, for our daughter’s high school graduation that we had our first meal together. Since our divorce, we’ve never celebrated Thanksgiving together and I do wonder whether it’s time to extend the olive branch… Perhaps, the passage of time is working it’s magic.
I sense that these occasions take on a new level of importance after divorce because they are all about family traditions. Divorce often brings with it a sense of loss of family and our challenge is to make sure we are still a family, even if we look a little different. Creating new traditions is key to meeting that challenge. If your divorce is already final, much of this could be detailed in your parenting agreement – I challenge you to take a fresh look at this and consider what would make the day special for your child.
How will you be spending Memorial Day? Is your child graduating high school? Will you and your ex be co-hosting a graduation party?
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