Splitting Holidays After Divorce: Does It Really Gotta Be Like That?

thxgivingI knew that I wanted to write something this week about facing Thanksgiving in my first year as a separated, soon-to-be divorced, parent. This was how my pitch to my editor read:

“I want to write about how I have some kind of fantasy that we can always do holidays together and even when he dates someone new she and I will be friends and it will be great and the kids will have even more love in their lives but that the reality is probably much grimmer but why can’t it be great? Why not? Why does divorce mean our relationship has to nearly end or become formal or whatever? Why can’t it be cool?”

And then this morning I was late to drop off Violet at school because Serge and I were having this great conversation when I stopped at his place to pick her up. It’s funny how the stages of divorce are just like the first, heady, exciting stages of a new relationship, but backwards. Instead of entwining your life with someone else you are slowly unraveling the knot. As opposed to having the conversation about being exclusive with each other — not seeing other people — you’re having the conversation about how you’re both seeing other people, or at least initiating contact with others.

The thing about it all is that I want us to still be cool. I don’t want to turn into strangers with this man, this very important person in my life. I want to ride the roller coaster that is our new relationship that involves me hearing about him talking to other women. The conversation began when I asked him if I would know he’s seeing someone before the Internet or even my kids know. “I mean, am I just going to stumble onto a photo of some woman and you on Instagram?” I asked. I wouldn’t think that to be the case. He’s typically a very sensitive guy but you never know. Stranger things have happened since we began unraveling the knot that was our romantic relationship.

“Of course, you’ll know,” he answered. I told him I’d afford him the same courtesy. It was a relief to hear him discuss this so openly with me. Because how us dating others will affect our relationship — especially as co-parents — is a huge fear, you know? You can attempt the greatest divorce ever but all bets are off once someone starts seeing somebody else, when someone moves at a faster pace than the other person, when a new person with emotions and thoughts enters your familial picture.

Anyway, we’re having Thanksgiving together.

He invited me to his place. He’s always been the one that cooked the turkey and made the stuffing; he is very serious about his stuffing. I do the other stuff; mashed potatoes, rolls, corn. And I have been dreading the holidays. Because, God. That’s one of your first realizations when you divorce: everything involving the children has to be negotiated now. Working out their weekly routine with us is like sequencing a missile launch. For the rest of time, Christmas will always be bittersweet because one parent will be alone at some point when the other has the kids — that kind of thing. And so it was a relief when Serge just said we should do it together at his place this year. No drama, no weirdness. A newly-organized family with the same old characters.

So here we are: planning our Thanksgiving menu together. Maybe our last as a whole family? Is Thanksgiving with an ex and their new love even possible?

Why can’t it be?

Why can’t I be friends with Serge’s new girlfriend? Why does divorce — when kids are involved — have to be this great divide? We are grown-ups. We both acknowledge we don’t work well when married and yet we both acknowledge we like each other, and our kids are the most important, so why can’t we spend holidays together? Why does it have to be awkward? Life is short. The kids will be grown in a blink so why not make the most out of these special years with them? We’re all just people trying to live life and find love and be happy, right?

But in the end, the delicate dance of post-divorce holidays isn’t just up to me. Other people, a woman I don’t even know yet, will eventually fill the space I used to and, in all likelihood, she ain’t gonna want to spend her holidays with me. Chances are some new guy in my life isn’t going to be thrilled at the prospect of holidays with Serge. And maybe that person will also have an ex who is the mother of his children and I might need to spend time with that former spouse and family as well. And maybe the same for Serge. And, and — the complexities actually become exponential. Because as soon as you’re not just two people anymore, you’re potentially four, and potentially more than four. Truly, this year could be the simplest one for a very long time.

And so, I suppose that in and of itself is something to cherish and be thankful for this year, right? RIGHT?

Image Source: Monica Bielanko

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