The newly divorced know to brace themselves for the Thanksgiving/ Christmas holiday hoopla. They know it will be a difficult time, especially during the first year. They also know they are not alone. The holidays are challenging not only for those with marital discord but for many others who struggle with family turmoil, addiction, geographical distance or financial woes.
But nothing prepares you for the glut of celebration that occurs in May and June. The newly divorced are suddenly faced with all kinds of decisions. While holidays are often difficult because the absence of the partner is palpable, the celebrations of the spring season are often even more difficult for the reason that both partners attendance is often required.
I am referring to those celebrations that are unique to each family-graduations, recitals, sports banquets, showers, engagement parties and even weddings. If your son or daughter is facing one of these milestones in their life, then you know attendance of both partners is strongly advised if not mandatory. Children (regardless of how old) would like, whenever possible, to share these special days in their lives with both parents present.
Only when such acrimony or violence is in place to warrant restraining or protective orders should one parent be excluded. Otherwise, no matter how much you hate your ex, his or her attendance should be encouraged. You do that for your child. While you may argue that your ex doesn’t “deserve “ to be included, this is your child’s day and unless your child voices otherwise, put aside your own feelings . This isn’t about what your ex “deserves”, this is about what your child wants and needs.
Some tips to make the day easier for both you and your children:
- At a commencement or recital, when possible sit, if not together, at least in the same area. As your child receives his diploma or takes her bow, spare him/her the burden of having to scan the audience twice to find both mom and dad. This small piece of consideration also takes the burden off of your other children having to choose with whom they should sit during the festivities.
- Unless your ex and your children are REALLY comfortable with it, leave your new partner home. You may be madly in love and have moved on in your life, but your child may not be ready to have that new person included in their special day, especially if the divorce is still pending or recently finalized. Furthermore, if you upset the other parent, you upset the child. This is your child’s day, their accomplishment and their celebration. Don’t let your own needs distort the focus.
- Pose for photos with your child AND your ex. ( Stop groaning!) If your child is lucky enough to have two parents to see them through this life passage, they will treasure a family photo commemorating their special day. It only takes a minute and a small effort to smile. Your child will have this memento to share with generations to come as well as the memory of how YOU behaved. These moments belong to the child and are not times to take a stand about your anger, resentment, pain, etc.
- Keep in mind that there was a time when you loved each other enough to have this child together. Let the child know you still love them enough to be a parent first and be the jilted, hurt, angry spouse, second. Focus on the joy you feel for your child’s great moment and not on your ex. This will also help you enjoy the day!
- Don’t rationalize bad behavior with “my child is old enough to understand”. No matter how old we are, we still want our parents to behave like grown- ups which simply means be decent and polite, human beings. Don’t ask your adult kids to take care of you. And while this is always important to remember, it is especially true today. The last thing a child wants to do on their special day is to play referee, therapist or mediator.
- Lastly, many of these great milestones are followed with a party, luncheon, reception, etc. Watch your alcohol intake or better yet, skip the booze for a soft drink. Alcohol and stress can be a bad combo leading to unfortunate moments of confession or confrontation. Your children will remember these great moments in their lives forever. The last thing you want is to be the one who ruined the day.
Congratulations to all of you who are receiving applause, trophies, diplomas or are getting engaged, married, or having a baby!
Enjoy your special day!