The holidays have always held special meaning for me. I grew up in a home where my mom always decorated extensively, cooked a big dinner for the whole family, lovingly baked all sorts of sweets, and infused our home with the magic of Christmas. When I imagined one day growing up and having children of my own, I couldn’t wait to pass along traditions, play Santa, and give them the same sort of wonderful memories that I had.
I had my first taste of sharing the holiday spirit when I married my ex-husband. His family celebrates Christmas, but he didn’t equate it with all of the warm feelings I had. His parents ran a small flower shop that consumed all of their time and holiday energy until late on Christmas Eve each year, meaning that they didn’t have the time or desire to decorate at home or do activities together that many others might. Over the years, he came to appreciate the music, décor, cuisine, and other elements I brought into our relationship.
Then, we finally had two children of our own, and everything I ever imagined about the holidays came to life! My kids and I baked cookies together, made keepsake ornaments out of their tiny handprints, set out treats for Santa and his reindeer, dressed up for the church pageant, and monitored the NORAD website to track Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve.
When my former husband and I decided to divorce, my children’s lives were, of course, disrupted. No kid ever asks to have his or her home torn apart or to have to face the reality of splitting a cherished day, like Christmas between two homes. It’s not so much that no sooner than they start to enjoy the festivities in one parent’s home that it’s now time to leave, but the fact that they will never again share such an important day on the calendar with all those they love in one place.
The emotional blow of the divorce for me was cushioned by the fact that I had my kids to do for and to focus on. If left to my own devices, perhaps I would have allowed myself to succumb to the gloom of my broken marriage and not bothered with putting up a tree or making and special plans. Thank goodness I had my children to keep my spirits buoyed with their own enthusiasm and the sense of duty that I had to give them a memorable holiday.
It wasn’t their fault that their dad and I were no longer together.
Now, I could have addressed Christmas as a single mom by going completely overboard with presents either to numb the blow of mom and dad’s divorce or to establish my home as the “cool” or “fun” place.
I’ve seen a lot of parents take this route…every birthday, holiday, or other major event becomes a sort of competition between homes to outdo the other. Of course, I want my kids to enjoy their holiday and be pleased with whatever they receive; but, I know that no fancy electronics or doll can heal the wounds of divorce. As a mom, I just had to be me. I had to do what I could do and not worry if it was “as good” or even “better” than what’s going on over at dad’s house.
I determined that the best gifts I could give my kids for Christmas was not necessarily from their wish list to Santa, but in the way I can give them a sense of stability, consistency, and magic in the everyday and holiday celebrations throughout life. My kids needed to know that it’s okay to have a great time at mom’s and dad’s, to appreciate the unique things about each home, family, and the way they do things, and to not feel trapped in needless competitions or comparisons between parents.
My ex does some things better than me and has unique things to offer them as a parent, and I bring another perspective, set of skills, and things they can expect from my home and family. Instead of focusing on better, worse, or what tangible gifts they can receive from either side, I hope to help my kids learn to value differences.
Years after the divorce, my ex still doesn’t put up a Christmas tree or do anything out of the ordinary during the holiday season. My kids will go to their grandparent’s for a meal and to open presents, and I’m sure they will enjoy their time together.
It’s apples and oranges. Neither is better here.
I do it my way with a visit to Santa, making gingerbread houses, and secret Santa gifts exchanged between the kids in my home. I hope that my kids will inherit some of my appreciation for finding excuses to make life more special and meaningful; but, the bottom line is that it’s very most important for them to value the time they spend with the people in their lives. Maybe they will decide to keep it very low key, as their dad does, or maybe they will hang stockings, go to church on Christmas Eve, and watch a marathon of holiday classic movies like I do.
If my children grow to become well-adjusted, loving, productive, and respectable adults, then I will know I have given them the most important gifts. I couldn’t give them one roof to grow up under, but I could give them a healthy outlook on life, less conflict in their lives, and two parents who love them very much, even if we’re no longer together.
This Christmas, like the others since my divorce, will have moments bursting with energy and excitement when my kids and stepkids fill my home (and heart) with their presence. At other moments, it will be silent and still as a snowflake when they (and part of my heart) are away with their other families. I, too, have had to learn to appreciate differences. My life, post-divorce, will be composed of alternating weeks of children and all that accompanies them (a new lost tooth, math homework, a squabble with a sibling, a hug) with weeks of absence.
I used to think of their weeks away as empty. Don’t get me wrong, I still often wipe away tears when I take them to their dad’s for his week, but I have come to find peace in my weeks when they are away. Of course, I would always prefer them to be with me; but, we have all adjusted and found purpose in the ebb and flow of their lives between two homes. I use my “snowflake moments” to gather my thoughts, composure, and energy to face the next week they are home so I can give my all to them, once again.
For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a memorable and warm holiday together! And to those who don’t, but still face time away from your children on significant days, I wish you peace as you come to terms with the differences now present in your life!