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Enduring the holidays as a divorced parent

I was not originally going to share this piece. It is not particularly flattering; rather, it is harshly humbling. Yet, as a writer, I have been encouraged, on countless occasions, to “Write what you know.”. For better or worse, this particular topic is one I know. If it can offer encouragement to even one other person, I feel inclined to share. For all divorced/separated moms and dads at the holidays.

The holidays are beyond stressful

What once was a magical wonderland of family togetherness has now been tragically ripped in half. The kids are at mom’s until noon, then with dad the rest of the day. We make such calculated measurements of holiday planning to ensure the kids get to see their precious grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins – on both sides. A feat which seeks nearly impossible with such limited time. 

Many times mom has to hold it together when someone asks the inevitable question, “Where are the kids?”. Like a scarlet letter ‘D’ painted on her forehead, she explains they are with their Dad this holiday, but in hopes to try to make herself (or the other person) feel less awkward, she says: “Don’t worry, you’ll get to see them at the next holiday gathering.”. 

This split of precious time between the nuclear family is further complicated when trying to manage stepparent holidays. The parents try desperately to allow the kids a chance to spend time with each of those special relationships. Which oftentimes leads to physically exhausted kids and emotionally  exhausted parents. 

It does get better

I have been divorced nearly eight years. We have practiced the split holiday co-parent dance to near perfection. Yet, we still deal with heightened emotions around the holidays, coupled with an infrequent knock-down-drag-out, because we both equally desire ‘the most wonderful time of year’ to be spent with those little humans that mean the most to us.

Those first few years of figuring this out were brutal, but have greatly improved over time, thank heavens.

Keeping the needs of the kids ahead of ours

I am writing this not to shed light on a topic I prefer not to broadcast, but as a source of encouragement for those going through relationship difficulties around the holidays. The easiest way through it is to continually remind yourself (and possibly your co-parent) to do what is best for the kids. They need to see both sets of grandparents. They need to have adequate time with Mom and with Dad.

They don’t need to be made to feel like a piece of luggage jostled back and forth in attempts to hit all 17 of each parents’ holiday get-togethers. In our family, we focus on the immediate family, and go from there. 

Yet sometimes it will always be a lose-lose situation

This year another kink has been thrown in the mix. My son’s basketball team practices on Sunday afternoons. The parents were told if the boys don’t make Sunday‘s practice, they will not play in Monday’s game. Which puts me in the position of: a) mean mom that denies my child the much-needed practice to succeed at what he loves, or b) questionable mom that puts her fifth grader’s basketball career before family.

Spoiler: It’s a lose/lose situation, which has conjured a plethora of emotions best left between me and my emotionally exhausted spiritual guide. 

This season will pass

While I head to the infamous drawing board to try and figure out how to irritate the least number of people, please know that whatever your current situation is, it is only temporary.

This may be the first year without the family patriarch. Or, Dad is still laid off and Mom doesn’t have the funds to buy the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Perhaps there is illness masking the typical ‘thankful’ feeling around the holidays. Or, this is the first holiday separated from your spouse and you will be spending it without your children. 

Whatever current situation you face, whether it be happy, longing, difficult, grieving, lonely, desperate, excited, joyful, expectant, or disappointed, please know there is always hope.

Practicing selflessness

No one deserves to be alone on the holidays. Reach out to those you know are suffering. Invite a single parent to your family table. Volunteer to take a holiday dinner to the elderly and widowed. Be a pillar of empathy, kindness, and understanding, even if you don’t understand. Especially if you don’t understand.

We all fall on difficult times which often intersect with formerly cheerful holiday seasons. I pray that each person reading this will find hope for healing, unexpected blessings, and overflowing gratitude this special holiday season because no matter what harsh realities you face, there is always something to be thankful for. 

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