The holiday season brings so many emotions to the surface. Being a parent, those emotions include not only your own childhood experiences, but those of your children – no matter what age they are. The thrill of gift giving and brightening the day of your child is a priceless memory that will last a lifetime. Sitting down with friends and family to enjoy a holiday meal, laugh at old times, and just be merry is what pushes some of us through hard times. And, there is the harsh reality of the divorced parent with children – the often dreaded holiday custody schedule.
Sorry for the holiday buzzkill but this is the reality for families of divorce with children. For years, my children have spent one part of the holiday season with me and the other with my ex-wife. It is, of course, a fair arrangement which we both agreed upon – morally and legally. My boys get to spend time with both of their parents, their parent’s extended families, and thus get to share in the spirit of the holidays with everyone in their family circle. To be honest, the schedule has become a fabric of our existence. One that does not cause any stress or anxiety about the holidays for them. My boys simply remember that today you are going to Mom’s and tomorrow you will be with Dad. And the next year, the reverse schedule will be in effect. For this, I am grateful that this schedule does not cause their holiday spirit to dwindle one bit. But for the parent, it is at times a devastating emotional time of the year.
I’m not sure if there is an article or seminar or YouTube video that could describe these emotions and feelings to anyone other than a divorced parent. In my family, I am proud to say I have a brother and sister who got married, had children, and remain married to their spouses. They have wonderful families with a lot of love, support, and respect for each other. When they go on vacation, they go as a family – Mom, Dad, kids. When they go to church or to a holiday party, the family goes. When they wake up Christmas morning, they are waking up together, every year, every present is opened together in the same house. Nothing about “well I have to get you to Mom’s at 10” or “let’s wait until the kids get here at noon to open all the gifts.” Nope, they are together and the day goes on like it should. Not so for the divorced parent.
The reality is sometimes you have to wait. Wait your turn. Wait until your time arrives. Put your excitement about your child opening a gift you purchased with so much joy back in November on hold. Walk down the stairs, into your holiday decorated house, turn on the Christmas lights, revel at all of the Christmas presents and memories to be made, and then stare at a quiet, empty room. Your turn will come later today, you say to yourself. You take a deep breath. This is the reality for some on Christmas morning.
And then you have the Christmas parties. The family get-together at your aunt or sister or grandparent’s home. Everyone is there waiting to see cousins they haven’t seen or catch up with an aunt or uncle. And you arrive without your kids, why? Well, they go to their Mom’s on Christmas day so they are not here. And the faces and the retreats of emotion and the confusion at times by the other people in the party is absolutely palpable to you, the divorced parent. How can this be? He has kids, but they are not with him? The explanation of the holiday custody schedule is humbling to say the least. But, you say it with a smile and try to move on.
My Uncle Johnny just emailed me something that I will be taking to heart this year and every day going forward “Your boys are really growing up fast. Keep watching as they will be gone before you know it.” Yes, I have a holiday schedule. Yes, I miss out on some parts of the Christmas experience. Yes, I need to wait my turn for the clock to read “My Time” or “My Day” during the holiday season. Yes, this is my life as a divorced parent with children. But the truth is this is what is in the best interest of my children. Spending the holidays with their mother, myself, my extended family, her extended family. Sharing the blessings I have whose names are Spencer, Griffin, and Harrison is quite possibly the best gift I could ever give my family.
So, this year, instead of becoming emotionally consumed by the custody holiday schedule, I am just going to feel blessed that my children are happy, healthy, and safe. I will take that walk down the stairs, into my ornately decorated living room, I will flick on the Christmas lights and stare at the wrapped gifts under the tree. I will take a deep breath and enjoy a memory or two from Christmas past. And soon, my time will come and my blessings will be with me. After all, no matter what time they arrive, my children are always with me and I am always with them.