“As a child of divorce, I fretted about how our family would
weather the changes or if we even still counted as a family. Our new Christmas
rituals offered both reassurance and revelation: that traditions can evolve and
that families can, too. What matters is what you make in the moment together.”
~Madeline Miller (in Real Simple magazine)

When a couple gets divorced, there are the obvious
transitions that stick out as the doozies. One or both parties move out.
Marital possessions are divided. Co-parenting plans and schedules are created. Holidays are assigned.

I conquered the moving out and division of possessions
awhile ago, and the co-parenting plans are a constant work in progress. Today I
conquered Part II of the holiday split.

Last month I had my children for Thanksgiving. But even with
the security of having them close for the first major holiday after the
divorce, it was still quite a transition to completely remove a member of the
family from the holiday equation. And as I put Thanksgiving behind me and
looked toward Christmas – my first Christmas ever spent away from my children
— I knew my strength was about to be tested.

The part of me that felt defeated and content with curling
up in a ball in bed so that I could sleep through the pain of a Christmas alone
tried to sweet talk me into ignoring the festive decorations I had just
retrieved from my ex’s house the first week in December.

“No one would blame you if you totally ignored Christmas,” that part of me said. “The kids
won’t notice because they won’t be here for Christmas.”

But then there was the other part of me, the part of me that
somehow manages to find its voice during tough times.

“You WILL do Christmas,” the voice said. “The kids WILL notice
if you don’t put up a Christmas tree or decorations. The kids WILL notice if
Ernie the Elf on the Shelf isn’t magically hopping from room to room every
morning or if Christmas tunes aren’t playing while you cook dinner. The kids
WILL notice if you don’t read them ‘Olive the Other Reindeer’ or let them watch
‘The Grinch.’

“You WILL do Christmas,” the voiced insisted. “If not for
yourself, then for your kids. Because they’ve had enough change and uncertainty
this year.”

So I did Christmas. With a few new twists.

Because, in many ways, I’m trying to start over, the kids
helped me pick out a new fake Christmas tree. (Yes, I did fake. A real one was
just way too ambitious for my first single mom Christmas.) But then the old
traditions kicked in, the traditions that I always loved, the traditions that weren’t always
acknowledged or appreciated in my household in the past.

The kids and I unpacked the ornaments and placed them on the
tree while Christmas music played in the background. We paused to take pictures. We paused to eat
cookies. We paused to reminisce about who gave us a particular ornament or why
another ornament deserved to be front and center on the tree. And I chose to smile at the ornaments that filled our new tree instead of dwelling on those I knew were missing from my collection because they now belonged to my ex.

I thanked that inner voice of strength for pushing me to
carry on with Christmas every morning when my daughter woke up and squealed in
delight after locating our Elf on the Shelf. I thanked that voice when the
three of us cuddled and gazed at the lights on our Christmas tree. I thanked that
voice when the kids talked about buying each other presents, something they had
no interest in doing before. I even thanked that voice when my son figured out
how to find SpongeBob’s Christmas album on Spotify and played it over and over
and over again.
Our family may have looked different than the last time we carried
out these traditions, but the three of us WERE a family. We ARE a family.

Because I was passing the children off to their father on
the Friday before Christmas, I wanted to have our own holiday celebration the
day before they left.  I explained to the
kids that, after emailing Santa about our circumstances, I learned he was
sending helper elves with a special delivery just for them. As I watched them
arrange their plates of cookies and leftover Halloween candy (because “candy is
healthy for elves”) and carrots (“just in case Santa lets them borrow a
reindeer”), it really felt like Christmas Eve.

That homegrown Christmas Eve was far from easy though. As I
hid in my bedroom and wrapped all the presents and placed them under the beautiful
new tree, I realized I had never done this alone before. This was always a special time
for the parents with a glass of wine and laughter about how the kids would
react to each gift that we wrapped. There are some moments when I truly miss
being one half of a marriage. That night was one of them.

But the next morning I watched the joy on my children’s
faces as they read the note from the elf who delivered their presents, as they
tossed wrapping paper in the air during their frenzy of excitement, as they showed each other their
loot. And I felt a sense of peace.

Our family will never look the same again. Many things have
and will continue to change. But many things will also remain the same. As time
goes on, I know I will come to terms with that. After all, isn’t a balanced mix
of old and new a normal part of life?

Saying good-bye to my children the following day was
gut-wrenching. It tested my limits of strength and positivity. But as I hope to
do throughout all the transitions coming my way as a newly divorced mother, I
decided to acknowledge the challenge by facing it head on, learning from it, and
moving on.

Within a couple hours, I had completely disassembled Christmas. The next day I was on a flight to a sunny place where I would be blanketed in
the warmth of family. My parents and I celebrated the real Christmas Eve and
Christmas day in our own way, building new traditions we can look back on and
both laugh about and treasure.

Now, as I close out my second major post-divorce holiday, I again
feel the same sense of peace I felt on that special early Christmas. I know that voice of strength will always guide me in the
right direction. It will always remind me that tough days pass. And I can
always rely on that voice that is a part of me because I am stronger than I
think I am.
Merry Christmas.

2 Comments on A Christmas of New Traditions

  1. Divorce sucks no matter how you look at it but there are ways you can make it suck less. I think you did a great job handling Christmas!! As someone who's been through a divorce both my own and my parents the other side is better and you will get there! My thoughts and prayers are with you!

  2. You are so amazing. I love how you found a new tradition for your family and how you continued to find the good in the situation. I hope you had an fabulous trip with your family and were able to enjoy yourself and recoup a bit before returning home.

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