Happily Divorced – Splitting Thanksgiving

Enjoying the holidays has probably been the biggest challenge for me.  As moms (and maybe dads feel this way too), we feel it is our duty to create family traditions.  Yet that is very difficult to do when you’ve agreed to alternate holidays.  At best, your tradition is either only executed in alternating years or you carry it out on a different day from year to year.  While this may work fine for you and your child or children, it is hard to pull off when considering the broader family.  Grandma and Pappa may always host Thanksgiving at their house.  A particular holiday event may only take place on Christmas Eve each year.

Even more complicating is when there are multiple divorces, remarriages, step-children, and even pets that have to be worked into the equation.  So my best advice is to not get too caught up in your own feelings.  This will just drive you crazy and honestly… it isn’t just about YOU!  Hell this is the case even if you’re not divorced.

Of course, Bob and I were divorced.  Bob’s parents were divorced – and both remarried.  Bob eventually got remarried, and his wife’s mom got remarried.  Bob’s sister was married but her husband’s family was from another town 2 hours from here.  My parents were still married but lived in Texas.  In fact, none of my relatives lived in town.  This actually ended up being a Godsend of sorts.  Sure it was tough not having them close by and I hated that we couldn’t share more of our lives with them.  But had they too been local, it would have just been one more difficult choice to have to make when it came to dividing up our time.

When Ian was between 6 and 14 years old, I mostly conceded Thanksgiving to Bob and his family.  It was just too sad for me to make dinner for just Ian and I and it didn’t seem right to keep him from enjoying a big family gathering that Bob could provide.  So I would do something else.  I’d have probably been better off in these years before Brian, had I went to volunteer at a homeless shelter or elderly home.  I don’t know why I didn’t do that other than to say I think I just got caught up wallowing in my own despair.  Instead, I usually met up at a bar on Thanksgiving evening with friends trying to escape the family scene.

I remember once Ian called me and asked what I think may have been the saddest question a child could ever ask a parent… “How can a son not see his mom on Thanksgiving?”  It was just awful.  Yep, there was that half Bob said I’d miss.  It’s in my eardrum right now thrashing at my heart.  Seriously, what a waste all that self-pity was!  If you end up alone on the holidays, don’t do what I did. Do something that involves you giving your time and energy to someone else’s needs.  I think you’ll feel a whole lot better.

When I finally started seeing Brian seriously, we began alternating Thanksgiving.  Of course, this introduced more complications – Brian’s kids, their mom’s wishes, her new husband, and her parents’ schedule.  Ian is now 24 and we still haven’t really conquered Thanksgiving successfully.  Given that I consider Thanksgiving the quintessential family holiday, it just comes preloaded with anxiety year after year. Still, alternating seems like the kindest choice for all involved.

One other thing I would caution against in the case of holidays is giving the kids TOO MUCH control in deciding how their holiday time is spent.  It isn’t all about them either!  Certainly strive to make it fair and not too frantic to enjoy.  But seriously, burdening a child with the decision of who to spend time with and how much and who to pick between is more unfair.  Make it your burden to figure out.  Not theirs.  Be the adults.  Be fair to yourself too.  Being a martyr doesn’t serve your or your children’s interest.  After all, they want to spend time with you… unless of course you’re an abusive asshole, in which case, you should lose all rights to ever see your kids until you decide to be a decent human being.

Co-parenting at Halloween Can Be Tricky

Happily Divorced Halloween
Ian was Robin two years in a row. This was also pre-divorce. But can you blame me for including it here?

Holidays are supposed to be a time for joy, fun, and celebration.  But when you are divorced with kids, it is a minefield of anxiety.  How do you get it right?  How do you build traditions when you constantly have to consider the forces outside your home?  How do you balance what your child wants with what you want to experience as a parent?  I can only speak for myself.  But I didn’t work on getting pregnant for 2 years only to miss all the significant memories in my son’s life.  My dreams of building that vast photo album of costumes and pictures with Santa didn’t end with my divorce.  I know there are people who let these things go.  But honestly, I just don’t relate to this type of parenting existence.  I couldn’t let Bob’s prophecy of “You’re going to miss half of his life” come to fruition.

So not unlike the tangled web we had to maneuver to pull off family vacations, we once again had to exhibit selflessness, flexibility, and compassion to provide the best holiday experiences to our boy while still getting to enjoy being his parents.

Don’t be Haunted by Halloween Missteps

Co-parenting at Halloween can be tricky
Ian was only 2 years old here. Bob and I were still together. But the photo is just too damned cute to leave it out.

The first key to a Happy Halloween whether you are divorced or still married is to let your child pick their own costume.  It’s one of the few things they can control.  So let them have it.  Pick one costume that they will want to wear to both parent’s house.  That way there is one experience – not only for them but for the two parents and everyone else around them as well!  Remember, your parents are building a photo album as well.

Now you might be saying to yourself, “Well of course you let the kid pick their costume.  What crazy control freak would deny a child such a rite of passage?”  But I can tell you first hand with another couple that I know that this is not the case.  In the ongoing obsession to control every aspect of every experience her children have, one parent I know always picks what the kids will wear.  The outcome of course is that IF the kids are allowed out of her sight for a millisecond, they strip down the costume to the point that you can’t even tell what they are dressed as.  Take that you control freak mother!  Happy now?

Divorced with kids at HalloweenBeyond the costume, I’d say the more tricky part (pardon the pun) for us was how to deal with the logistics of trick or treat.  And in our case, we lived very close making it a little easier.  Still, will they go to both neighborhoods?  Will they just do one?  Is there time for both?  Will they have anyone to go with in both neighborhoods at different times?  What do they want to do?  What if I don’t get to see my child in his costume this year?  Oh hell!  This part sucks.  Looking back, I guess we did “ok” with this one but I think we could have done better.

Ian did pick his costumes OF COURSE and also which neighborhood to start in.  But the other parent always wanted to be part of it and so Ian would have to stop halfway through the first neighborhood to switch houses.  Of course, he didn’t get to go with the other kids in the second neighborhood because they had started way earlier and were either done or on an entirely different part of the neighborhood.  I think in some Halloween Co-parenting Coach Tressel Costumeyears he picked one or the other neighborhood but still had to make time to share his costume with each parent.  As parents and the “adults”, we should have made all this inconvenience more our affair and let him just enjoy the experience in one location or the other.  Of course, being the true Libra sun sign that he is, Ian probably felt obligated to give each parent and friend-group equal time anyway.  So I’m not sure that he would have chosen any differently.  But looking back, I feel we should have done more to relieve him of this burden.

So as you finalize your plans for this year’s trick-or-treating, do everything you can to remember this is a memory for your child first and you second.  Be flexible and considerate.  And expect to do more than your friends who are married have to just to create the same level of kid-parent experience.

Happily Divorced – Helping Each Other

So I guess I could have started with this topic because really this is at the core of it all.  Bob and I have consistently and willingly helped each other through big life events and the little things.  At first, I think Bob would have probably rather not helped me.  He was very angry with me, which is to be expected.  But he was the bigger person, putting his feelings aside to make sure his son had a comfortable home to live in with his mom.  He gave me a basic set of tools so that I could pound in a nail or screw together a piece of furniture.  He bought and installed a high-end bathroom shower door from his business in Ian’s bathroom.  And he was consistently there to pick Ian up, drop him off, and spend time with him on a regular schedule without fail or complaining.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Bob to borrow a tool or small appliance, costume, or really anything else I might need but didn’t have.  If I needed a referral for anything – and I mean anything – Bob would always know a guy.  In fact I’m pretty sure Bob is the consummate “I know a guy” guy.  Whether it is a painter, plumber, mechanic, or limo driver, Bob knows a guy.  And he always invited me to use his name.  “Tell them I sent you and you’ll get a good deal,” he would say.  There was never any hesitation or trepidation.  Every request was readily accommodated without ever making me feel like I owed him something or that he had something over me. Probably a good thing since I seem to have fewer things he needs or maybe it’s just because he has everything and knows everyone.  But if there was something, I too gladly shared my stuff and my referrals – need a musician or a psychic? I know some of those – and felt good doing it.

Of course, besides being there with the “things” and the referrals, we were there to help each other through life’s ups and downs.  I’ll admit I didn’t help him move.  But I did help move a lot of sound gear and music instruments between our homes.  I babysat his daughter when he and Brandi had somewhere to go.  I’ve went to every viewing of every relative of Bob’s who I knew that has passed since we split – even one that I didn’t know very well.  I’ve offered help to his parents emotionally and would gladly do so physically if called upon.

And when Bob got in a very bad motorcycle accident in the spring of 2016, I got up as soon as I received the text and never went back to bed.  I went to the hospital to see him twice.  I consoled his worried mom and sister and ate with them (or actually watched them eat) in the hospital cafeteria.  I talked to his stepdad the day after and let him talk me through a play-by-play of the accident which obviously he wanted to tell someone.  It only took about 45 minutes. I went to Bob’s house to visit him after he got home just to let him know I cared and was there for him.  I told Brandi I’d cover whatever she needed – let out the dogs, bring them dinner, take Gracie, or whatever. That’s how you treat friends.  You don’t judge them.  Ok, you might.  But you put that shit aside to take care of them and realize it could just as easily have been you in the situation.  You are there for them and their family and offer your support.

Finally and probably most germane to the topic of this book, we helped each other to be better parents.  We talked about the issues parents deal with. The difficulties our son might be going through and how best to deal with them and help him.  How to cover the Christmas list?  How to pay for an expensive gift?  How to help him get along better with neighbor kids?  What sports should Ian try?  How do we best support our aspiring musician? Who will go to curriculum night?  Who’s going to talk to the coach?  And of course, we could gush all day long to each other about how wonderful our son is without annoying the other person.  You really can’t do that with a non-parent.  Not even a step-parent past a certain point.

If you’re reading this blog because you are recently divorced or because you are not having a “happily divorced” experience, you may find all of this to be a lot to take on in your particular situation.  All I can offer is to remember the golden rule.  You know the one our parents taught us.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  I promise you even if it feels uncomfortable, the dividends of a positive relationship and moreover positive parenting experience for you and happy childhood for your offspring is SO worth a bit of discomfort now and then.  After all, it will certainly be less uncomfortable than when you lived in the same house.