Managing Holidays When Relationships Are Complicated (Part 1)

Most of us have beloved holiday traditions that we celebrated with our families, and that we plan to share with our own families one day. Passing on foods and celebrations helps us build our own family traditions. These traditions shape us and help us to define ourselves and our families.

But what happens when our future doesn’t turn out the way we’d hoped it would? After a painful breakup, it can be hard to reconcile your happy holiday wishes with the reality of your situation. But for your own sake and the sake of your children (if children are involved), it’s important to figure out a set of holiday traditions and routines that works for you.

My own life changed dramatically when my first marriage ended and I was left on my own with two young sons. I had to deal with the pain and anxiety of my divorce while keeping up day-to-day routines for the boys. Holidays presented a new challenge: how could I honor both sides of the family? How could I make sure that the boys got to experience everything they were used to? And what would become of my holiday traditions?

As I reflect upon those years when my sons were younger and I had to manage sharing the holidays with their father, my ex-husband, I’m glad to say that I always made the boys my first and foremost priority. Co-parenting requires strong communication skills and a lot of respectful planning ahead. I found that  allowing plenty of time to discuss plans helped us to find satisfactory solutions with a lot less stress.

My sons’ father and I often alternated our large holidays. During the time we were married, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and birthdays had been big occasions for our shared family. But eventually, we managed to reach an agreement to alternate the big holidays each year. This helped us minimize what could have been hectic schedules for the children. 

Later, I remarried and had a daughter. Unfortunately, my second marriage also ended in divorce, which added more complexity to our holiday situation. However, as a result of good communication with my daughter’s father, we could often reach an agreement to keep things peaceful so that our daughter would not experience trauma or stress.

During the first few years after my second divorce, my daughter’s father allowed me to take our daughter to the East Coast so that she and I could celebrate with my sons. This was very important to me, because I felt my daughter really needed time with her older brothers. I remain grateful to my daughter’s father for his kindness and consideration for us all.

Now that my sons are adults with wives and families of their own, sharing and joining events seems to be easier for everyone. It has been said that time heals all wounds. In this case, I would agree that time has allowed for any differences that I have had with my ex-husbands to heal and for us to grow as parents and as individuals.

My exes and I continue to encourage family gatherings and extend invitations to each other. I truly believe that this has enriched our lives and the lives of our children, and that it’s helped deepen our children’s connection as siblings. I have concluded that although we are not a traditional family, we are family.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash