Childrearing

Splitsville: Should Separated Parents Try To Fake Traditional Holidays?

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand thatdidn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

I have to admit, the thought of joined holidays has never even crossed my mind when planning our holiday schedule for my daughter. After all, I don’t expect my husband’s extended family and mine to all come together for a joyous holiday occassion. For one thing, we would have to rent out a convention center. For another, each side of the family has their own special traditions and activities that make them special. Not mention, with six siblings between the two of us, that’s a whole lot of additional in-laws. In theory, everyone getting together for a single holiday sounds wonderful. Being with all your friends and family at once normally sounds awesome. It’s the realistic logistics of the whole matter that make it a little insane. And since I would never consider trying to combine both sides of grandparents for a single holiday, I was kind of shocked when a commenter chastised me for not joining with my ex for a single holiday.

On a recent post about sharing holiday schedules and how separated parents can make it work, I received a comment that said “I know a handful of divorced parents who have successfully realized they are parents first and divorced spouses second – at least as long as their children are still living at home. These families have one Christmas, one Thanksgiving, one birthday party. Both parents attend the holidays together, and the children get to have at least a few days a year when celebrating as a family takes precedence any lingering relationship issues.” It’s not that I’m offended that someone disagrees with me. It’s that I honestly had never considered this an option, especially not for family holidays.

I’ve heard of separated parents coming together for birthday parties. I’ve always thought it sounded like a nice practice for everyone involved. After all, a birthday is an occasion celebrating a single child and their special day. It makes sense to have everyone important to that child together at once. In my own experience, it hasn’t worked out that way, but I wouldn’t be against the idea. My daughter actually shares her birthday with her father, so it’s their special day to spend together. Normally on a weekend surrounding that day, my extended family and close friends get together for our own birthday party. It just seemed natural to have our own separate celebrations.

Once again, the reality of trying to have four extended families together for a single event is almost mind-blowing. With a rough head count, that would include at least 75 people. It’s simply not a realistic option for any holiday. It’s not that I think our families would argue or fight. I assume that grown adults can get over their past history with one another for their sake of a child stuck in the middle. I expect my ex and I to do this on a monthly basis. It’s really just the different needs of each family and the sheer number of people that makes it unrealistic.

The idea that having separate holidays means that my ex and I are more concerned with our own feud that our daughter is just a little bit of a stretch. I don’t think that choosing to have our holidays makes us selfish and I definitely don’t think it hurts our daughter. It’s possible that parents can come together to support their child without having to turn close family celebrations into huge productions, like a couple of actors pretending to be in a relationship for image boost. I don’t think that my ex and I need to fake a perfect, cookie-cutter family celebration to give our child a great holiday.

What’s wrong with creating our own traditions and having multiple get togethers? What’s wrong with splitting the time? Do you think it’s more important to create a traditional holiday or find a structure that works for your individual family?

16 Comments

  1. Kay

    December 4, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Well im not in your situation but the post caught my eye on the google reader app. Honestly I think its what works best for each family. My husband & I are both from large (with a capital L) traditional Catholic families- and honestly we have big problems trying to get the families together for anything. We end up with two or three birthdays normally (mind you these are even combined bdays as the boys birthdays are so close together, last summer we had three birthday events in three seperate cities. ) we already have five christmases planned (thats down one from two years ago now that my mil & fil took over the extended family christmas after my husbands grandfather pasted away). We had three thanksgivings (skipped a fourth) and this is with both sets of grandparents not being split nor us being split. As you said the sheer logistics of getting everyone together is, well, just not happening. I’m glad some families can do it- its obviously a wonderful idea and im sure an equally wonderful practice (although I wouldnt know lol) but I tend to agree with you that theres nothing wrong with not being able to do so. The idea of if we were tryng to do this times two as you are makes my head hurt 😉

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      November 7, 2014 at 11:15 pm

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  2. RighttoWorkMom

    December 4, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    As the person you quoted in this article, I’m happy to answer your questions.

    First, based on the limited information I have about you and your family, I would say a combined holiday is only not possible because you’re only willing to look at it one way. Why does it have to be all of the extended families together? If you have no problem telling your daughter she has to celebrate Christmas multiple times in order to involve everyone, why can’t you do the same? I don’t know what your Christmas was like before you and your ex split up, but presumably you had time together with your child. If you only had time together at extended family holidays, you and your ex could attend each other’s extended holidays. If you had time together as a three person family before you went to the bigger celebrations, you could give your daughter back that time. If you think the only way to have a shared holiday is if you can manage all four extended families together, you’re right, you probably can’t. However, I’ve never met a family that couldn’t possibly make any compromises for the sake of familial unity.

    As for what’s wrong with splitting the time, well, it hardly ever stops at holidays. When was the last time your daughter could say “my parents” without referring to the fact that you’re not together? When was the last time she had a family dinner that included both of you? How much of her holiday is going to be about packing for one Christmas and then packing for another, all the while all too aware of the fact that she has a schedule to follow? Really, I don’t think it’s about “tradition” so much as it’s about commitment. When you have a child with another person, you have made a lifelong commitment to them and to that child. If you can’t honor that commitment once or twice a year for holidays, when can you?

    It’s hard to be the child of divorced parents. It’s hard enough for a child to have to know about things like joint custody, visitation rights, and child support payments, but it often gets harder when step-parents, step-siblings, and half siblings get involved. I hear adults say all the time that it will be “easier” for their kids because they (the parents) won’t be fighting anymore, but how many divorced couples do you know that never fight about visitation times, split holidays, and expenses?

    I can’t say what motivates you to have separate holidays or whether or not you’re selfish, but I can say that your article doesn’t reflect a great deal of compromise. I can’t say what your traditions are like at Christmas, but I can say that, as a parent, I frequently find myself doing things I don’t want to do at the holidays because my daughter is my priority so far above and beyond anything else at Christmas. I can say that it hurts your daughter to have separate holidays. It’s quite simply a hardship she shouldn’t have to deal with as a child.

    My intention is not to go on the offensive against you or any other divorced parent. You have to make the choices that are best for your family. However, holidays are a great opportunity to show your daughter that you and her father will always be a part of the same family because you have her. You are talking about trying to fit in siblings and spouses and so forth because they are your family, but what is a more basic family than parents and child? Shouldn’t your daughter get that same feeling of togetherness?

  3. NotThumper

    December 5, 2011 at 12:10 am

    Having read a bunch of your Splitsville articles I stand by my opinion that you just make these things more difficult than they need to be. I am starting to feel bad for your daughter.

  4. Steph

    December 5, 2011 at 2:51 am

    My parents divorced when I was 12. They refused to be in the same room together, but they both insisted on getting Christmas Day with us.We’d have to run between at least two, sometimes as many as five, different places each year, getting in trouble at every.single.one for arriving too late, leaving too early and not eating enough. I hate Christmas. I hate it so much.

  5. shannon

    December 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Every family, every couple, every relationship is different. There is absolutely no cookie cutter answer for such a question. And just because you aren’t in a situation where you can make it work the way some others have does not mean you are harming your child! The fact that you are considering and posing such questions means you must love and care about your child very much and want to create a situation that’s best for her. The nasty commenters need to back off!!

  6. Jen

    December 5, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I think that everyone is different. Heck, I’m married and we still don’t generally spend each holiday with both sides of our family because it just becomes too much.

    How old is your daughter? If she’s old enough perhaps inviting her into the planning would be a nice thing to do? Perhaps, if you and your ex both feel comfortable doing so, you could have a special time you spend together with her (even if it’s not on the actual holiday) in addition to all the random family events. It could even become a yearly tradition that provides you all with a much needed breather from the hectic frenzy of the holiday season. That being said, I have no idea what your life and relationship with your ex is like (even from reading your columns, who knows, right?). I would only consider this if both you and your ex and your daughter felt comfortable with the idea. I have friends who have actually asked their parents NOT to spend the holidays together, preferring to split time because of how awkward and uncomfortable the forced civility made them feel. Which is why I say that if your daughter is old enough it could be nice to brainstorm this together.

    Either way best of luck to you in figuring out your hectic schedule. I don’t think some of the people here who are suggesting you need to realize that certain divorce situations can actually be made WORSE for a child by parents attempting to do things together and that you and your ex, as parents to your daughter, are the only ones who can decide what is best for you.

  7. MapleJack-Kate

    December 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Seems like there is only so far a family can go with the ‘everyone should celebrate together’ theory.

    I mean, sure, you could get your parents and brothers and sisters together with your ex and his brothers and sisters, if you really put your mind to it. Impractical, but possible.

    Until you consider that each of your brothers and sisters probably has a partner and kids of their own. What about the right of THOSE kids to see both sides of extended family all in one place? Does that mean your brothers and sisters should bring all their in-laws?

    And what about the in-laws of the in-laws?

    It’s six degrees of separation, and before you know it, you whole darned world is quishing into your house for Christmas.

    Seems crazy to me. You have to draw the line somewhere. Draw it in the place that feels right for you and yours, and if anyone tries to tell you you’re doing it wrong, tell them to sod off. 🙂

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