Ex-etiquette: Holidays can get tricky
Q. My ex-wife recently has recently moved to a town 100 miles away and would like to have Christmas dinner at her new home. The kids, all adults with families of their own, have always spent Christmas Eve with her and Christmas Day with me. This year, because of the distance, she is proposing we all spend the holidays with her. We all get along, but this is quite a bit different than what we have done. I would consider going, except I have a new partner who no one has met and has no family. I don’t want to leave her alone on Christmas. I’m not sure it’s appropriate to even ask if I bring her. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I normally say holidays are not the time to introduce new partners. There are too many family traditions and leftover emotions that might complicate things. However, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are also symbolic of inclusion, so to leave someone alone doesn’t really jive with the meaning of the holidays.
It sounds like you and your ex have had a successful holiday parenting plan over the years, but her move now complicates things. Traveling means rearranging everything, possibly spending the night, and families often balk at change, particularly around the holidays. You probably saw that when you first divorced and had to initiate new holiday traditions because you were no longer together.
There are other things to take into consideration — it’s not uncommon for exes to long for a “just-like-it-used-to-be” holiday. I had a client tell me that Hallmark movies make her nostalgic for her former married life and she had to stop watching them because her kids got angry when she proposed they all spend the holidays together. They had accepted the divorce years ago, had developed new traditions, and had no interest of revisiting the way it used to be. If you are truly entertaining the possibility of spending the holidays together, check with your kids first. Introducing a new partner too soon — and on a holiday — could feel like an invasion of privacy and that might sabotage any future interaction your kids have with your new partner. You’ll get a lot of, “Oh, it’s her again.” Not productive. Not good ex-etiquette.
So, if you’re actually considering spending the holidays at your ex’s new home, just remember, timing is everything. If you know the introduction will upset things this year, don’t bring her. Talk about the future and reassure her that next year you’ll celebrate the holiday as a couple. Then over the next year slowly include her in family get-togethers. As time goes on, inviting her will seem like the natural order of things.
Finally, when all is said and done, it’s important to understand that Christmas is just one day of 365 other days. Although the holidays can be rough alone, your new partner is an adult and since she has no family, has probably faced this problem before. This may be more about your own guilt than her inability to be by herself. Check with the kids — they are adults, too — and remember be honest and straightforward when talking to them and your ex (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #8.) That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.