Rethinking The Holiday Divorce Schedule

As an adult, some of my favorite memories are of holidays.  If it was a holiday, my mom was on it.  You could mark the passing of time by the wreath on the front door, the centerpiece on the table, and the food in the kitchen.  While I went through the many changes of childhood into the teen years, and plowed on through two divorces as an adult, the consistency of my mother’s holiday celebrations stayed constant.  After forty years, we still debate whether it’s ok to switch-up the Christmas stuffing or keep to the traditional.  It’s a fun conversation, but I know that we’ll always come back to the traditional.  It’s more than food, it’s comfort.

So this year, my six-year-old was excited for the Chex Mix Making Day.  With her limited six experiences (do the first two count?), she has already come to know that Chex mix equals Thanksgiving preparation, which equals fun.  She set up four large bowls, mentally marking which bowl was going to be for which person, and then she poured.  3 cups rice Chex into bowl #1, #2, #3, #4.  3 cups corn Chex into bowl #1, #2, #3, #4 and so forth.  I could hear her humming as I was making up the buttery mixture at the stove (double butter, double seasoning a must!).  I know her dad will realize that it is not a slight that their portion doesn’t have nuts in it.  That’s the batch that travels with my youngest to Massachusetts with her and her dad.  She was going to leave out everything besides the Chex, but was persuaded that maybe dad would like the pretzels.  I’m sure he’d like the nuts too, but maybe next year.  The point isn’t the nuts.  The point is her joyfully humming through this tradition.

Every year, my daughters are away from me for Thanksgiving.  Every year, they are with their dads.  Every year, my daughters are able to experience a Thanksgiving tradition: their Thanksgiving tradition.  Just because it doesn’t involve me doesn’t negate their tradition.  Even though my younger daughter has only had two Thanksgiving trips to Massachusetts, this year, when I mentioned that she’ll get to go with dad to her aunt’s house again, I got the “duh” look from her.  It made me smile.  She’s a kid that knows what she’s doing.  In her short years of post-divorce practice, she knows that Thanksgiving means fun New England family-time. And the chance to watch 3 movies in the car while munching on nut-less Chex mix.  What will she be doing next year at Thanksgiving?  She’ll be with her dad, enjoying family-time, and eating Chex mix. 

Divorce didn’t deprive my girls of their holiday traditions.  My experience is now different then my older child’s, which is different then my younger child’s, but while we don’t get to share the same tradition, we do get to share the same effect: nurturing holidays.  It’s fitting that this year, I’ll be back at my mother’s table re-living my own Thanksgiving tradition.

When I was newly faced with creating a post-divorce holiday schedule, I knew two things.  #1: I knew that I wanted my girls to grow up, like I did, with a sense of holiday tradition.  That was non-negotiable.  #2: I knew that it would be good for them to spend time with their dad. 

Did I want them to spend all of their holidays with me?  Yes.  Did I think they would have super fantastic, Martha Stewart holidays with me?  Yes.  Did I pout at the idea of not being able to spend all of MY holidays with my girls?  Yes.  But realizing and acknowledging all of my feelings didn’t trump #1 or #2.  So, the only solution that allowed for both consistent tradition and time with both of their parents, was a designated holiday schedule.

After twelve years of practice, my fourteen year old knows what she’s doing every holiday.  She’s assembled a long list of holiday traditions ranging from Chuck-E-Cheese on New Year’s Day, Nutcracker the Sunday before Christmas, North Carolina at Thanksgiving, to egg hunts at Easter.  The traditions have carried her through childhood and continue as she watches her younger siblings do the same.  The fact that I’m only in some of these holiday memories isn’t important.  My gift to her is the ability to have these yearly traditions, in spite of having two parents that are divorced.

Whether you’re contemplating a holiday schedule for your child, or whether you have one already in place, look to see where you can create yearly traditions.  The goal is to create wonderful holidays for your child – holidays that are full of tradition and love.  Designating holidays allows for you and your child to repeat traditions every year.  (And not comparing it to the other parent’s traditions.)  Foster that sense of tradition, continuity, and security by adopting the designated holiday schedule.

A terrific effect of this schedule is that both parents seem to put more effort into creating wonderful holidays. Would Chex mix have become so important if my daughters hadn’t started being away from me?  Certainly not with the same importance or so many batches!  And I know for a fact that my daughter wouldn’t have had Chuck-E-Cheese New Year’s Day fun, had her dad not stepped up to create this fun to-do.  (I’m told that Chuck-E-Cheese is deserted on New Year’s Day, making it much more fun for both child and parent!) 

Growing up, I knew what I would be doing, year after year, for the holidays.  My daughters know, year after year, what they will be doing for the holidays.  While the family members present differ, the atmosphere of love remains the same.

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Relates to Divorced Situation #12: Setting the Holiday Schedule ,The Pro-Child Way: Parenting with an Ex to be released January 2010.  www.TheProChildWay.com  Ellen Kellner, all rights reserved.

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