Christmas During a Divorce

Nutcracker figure

Christmas is a very romanticized time of year. There’s the aura of mystery painted by the famed poem, "Twas the night before Christmas" There are all the old time movies with fairy tale endings like It's a Wonderful Life . And of course, there’s the bombardment of advertisements telling us that if buy the right gifts and cook the right food and vacation in the right places, everyone will love us, we'll all be happy and the holidays will be perfect.

In reality of course, it’s not like that and if you’re in the throes of divorce then Christmas is not going to be merry. In 2006, my husband and I were splitting up. We’d told the children in early November, but we were still living in the same house, sharing the same bedroom, sharing the same bed. We hadn’t filed for divorce and hadn’t even started to negotiate our settlement. Friends knew, but we were in that awkward space where people don’t know whether to invite you to social events and you don’t know whether one of you, both of you or neither should go.

I ran home to England for a week, taking the kids with me with a return flight on Christmas Eve so they could be with their dad on Christmas Day. Thanks to a blizzard that closed Denver International Airport, our flight home was canceled and the next available flight was a week later. While the kids were disappointed, I was relieved -- I wouldn't have to cook Christmas dinner and wonder what we should all do next, trying to make everything as normal as possible for the kids.

Divorce consultant and author of the The Post Divorce Chronicles Lee Block tells her clients to make the best of the situation for the sake of the children.

"Buck it up! You're an adult," says Block. "It doesn't mean you have to spend the whole day together on Christmas. Do what you would normally do as a family and then maybe in the afternoon go see a movie without your soon-to-be-ex or take your children to see your parents." Alternatively, you can always escape on your own for a few hours.

INRIS, who blogs at It Never Rains In Seattle, says that if it wasn’t for his kids -- aged two, five and eight -- Christmas wouldn’t be happening this year. He and his wife are currently negotiating their divorce, which as divorces go appears to be remarkably calm and civil. They're still living together, but with the bank foreclosing on their home, they’re being forced to move quicker than perhaps they're prepared for.

They’ve now both signed leases for separate homes, making the week between Christmas and New Year the most pragmatic time to move. Although the kids know a move is impending, they don’t know it’ll mean two separate homes. Despite having spent the better part of 2010 discussing divorce and blogging it about, INRIS says he doesn’t feel adequately prepared for breaking the news to the kids, and he’s concerned about the timing.

INRIS doesn't know how his children will react.

“This could roll off their backs or it could be something serious. If it is something serious, I’m concerned about it being tied to Christmas.”

That's exactly why Block recommends waiting.

"If you can make it through the holiday, the best time to tell the kids is right after the new year," says Block who followed her own advice and moved out with her two children almost six years ago. She spent the time between Hanukkah and the new year preparing to move. "Holidays are a really big deal to kids and nothing will ruin their holiday more than being told you're getting divorced. That's a sure way to send them into therapy."

Both INRIS and his STBX are putting in extra hours at work right now, taking advantage of the opportunity to recover from the resulting hardships of the economic downturn while striving to build a firmer financial footing for their new separate futures. So it's not just the divorce that's making Christmas this year look different.

“We’re not really decorating the house. We did put up a tree but I didn’t drive that. My wife did. And we’re not doing much of the family things we’ve done previously like going to Seattle Center or ice skating.”

As for gifts, INRIS’s parents asked if they should be getting a gift for his wife. He told them she was still the mother of their grandchildren and that they weren't parting in anger. His parents ended up sending him a check and leaving it up to him to decide how to spend it. His wife is doing the majority of the gift shopping for the children, but they are in constant communication about the gifts. That's right in line with the advice that Block gives.

"Focus on the kids. Don't focus on each other, don't focus on how you feel about each other, don't focus on what is going to happen after the holidays. The reality is that the holidays are for your children."

Even with that, INRIS couldn't resist buying his STBX a gift, what he considers the perfect gift -- a new husband!

If the thought of holiday social events has your stomach in a knot, Block's advice is simple. Don't go.

"There are a million reasons you can give for not going without letting people know what's going on - you couldn't get a babysitter."

If you're not sure about going solo, then find a friend who's going and ask if you can tag along.

However, Block says that keeping the end of your marriage a secret is not always the best way to go.

"It's surprising the support you can get from people who know what's going on. It gives you an outlet to talk about things to sit down in a quiet corner with some friends and to unload some of the stuff."

Block has a good point -- "a problem shared is a problem halved," but what if you're just not ready to go public, not ready to tell the children or not even sure your marriage can't be saved? Well, as INRIS discovered, that's the beauty of blogging, especially with a pseudonym.

What makes Christmas special is family traditions. However, there is simply no way to keep the same traditions after divorce. You have to start making your own, new ones. If this is your first Christmas as a divorced parent or even a soon-to-be-ex, then now is as good a time as any to start creating your brand new family Christmas.

So let this be a merry Christmas,

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