Approach holidays differently after divorce

Jann Blackstone

Q: Although my husband grew up with divorced parents, I did not, but recently my parents also divorced and all are now with new partners or remarried. This means my husband and I have to travel to four different homes around the holidays. My husband takes this in his stride, but I’m stressing because we have a 2-year-old and all this traveling on one day will be too much for him — plus coordinating with sisters and brothers is impossible. Do you have any ideas for families who want to celebrate together but face divorced mothers, fathers, and extended family? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: Since your husband’s parents are divorced, he’s used to all this. You aren’t. This is all new and you’re trying to treat the holidays just as you did growing up. You can’t. Your husband will tell you — divorce changes everything — some good, some bad, but the bottom line is it’s not the same, and as a result you have to approach the holidays differently.

Good ex-etiquette starts with having reasonable expectations. That means understand and accept your limitations — you can only be at one place at one time.

The craziness that are the holidays can bring out the best — and the worst — in people. The most obvious solution is to alternate the holidays between parents — unfortunately, since both sides are divorced, that means you will celebrate with your own mom or dad about once every four years. This is why I suggest those with multiple commitments view “the holidays” not as just one holiday, but as a season. Between mid-November and January 1st there are quite a few days to celebrate with loved ones. Take Thanksgiving, for example. The fourth Thursday in November is not the only day your family can give thanks. The kids don’t go back to school until Monday, so there’s the Friday following, or Saturday or even Sunday to get together as a family.

Modifying, rather than abandoning old traditions, is the key. Don’t be afraid to start a new tradition. Try assigning different days to different sides of the family. Or, if traveling is too difficult with little ones, assign the days, but have your home be base camp. I’ve had clients tell me they invite the husband’s mom and the wife’s dad to Thanksgiving one year and the opposite grouping the next year or possibly the following day. None of the battling sides meet and they have cut down the traveling days.

Just remember, it’s not only up to you to find solutions. Your parents divorced. Expecting YOU to figure this out is not necessarily good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families,