Ex-etiquette: Create a harmonious holiday season
Q: My kids’ dad and I broke up about four months ago. This is our first big holiday and in doing research on the subject, I’ve read some sources that say you should spend the holidays with your child’s other parent and other sources that say you should not. Once and for all, what’s right? I’m tired of making mistakes. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Well, once and for all, there’s no pat answer. It all depends on where you are in your recovery from the break-up, but more importantly, where your kids are. You must ask yourself, why do you want to do this? Certainly not because someone told you it was the right thing to do, because it may not be for you and your family.
Personally, my family did not attempt spending a major holiday together for five years into the experiment — definitely not after four months — and then it was at the prompting of my teenage bonus daughter. By that time my husband and I had evolved into a sort of peaceful coexistence with his ex. Their kids went back and forth between homes every other week and it became common place to compare notes. After years of hurrying through dinner so that the kids could get to their mom’s on time, we all had had enough. My bonus daughter said, “Please can we just try ...” We said, “Sure,” out loud, but secretly said, “If it gets weird we can politely excuse ourselves.” We never had to. The spirit of Thanksgiving was alive and well that year. Everyone was on their best behavior and the kids were ecstatic. And, that became our new tradition.
So, the true answer to your question is you do what you must do to set a positive example for your kids. If it’s too soon in your journey, don’t do it. Bets are your kids didn’t want this divorce. They’re probably reeling after only four months and watching you and dad very carefully. If you’re stressed out, if you’re still hurt, if you’re angry, frustrated, or feeling anything other than peaceful and forgiving, it would be counterproductive. The kids could very easily misunderstand why you’re spending a holiday together and think there will soon be reconciliation. The disappointment when that doesn’t happen — and that you had no intention of it ever happening — will be devastating and set them back in their adjustment.
The best suggestion at this juncture with the information you have given me is don’t feel pressured to do anything other than what’s comfortable. Always put your kids first. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1). Under the circumstances, the answer for now may be to alternate the holiday. The kids with one parent this year, the other parent next year.
Finally, be very careful how you approach this subject with the kids. Don’t make them choose where they want to spend time. Asking them, “Do you want to spend Thanksgiving with Dad or me?” puts them right in the middle. Better to decide with dad and then gently explain your decision to the children. When parents make decisions together, their kids feel organized and protected — and that’s 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, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.