This year I ate Christmas dinner seated between my ex-husband and my boyfriend. If that sounds awkward, well... it kind of was. But it was my idea. This is the reality for my family: We're not going to have a typical, traditional Christmas dinner because we're not a typical, traditional family. But maybe that's all right -- and maybe my kind of family is more common than I think.
When we separated a year and 7.5 months ago (not that I'm keeping track or anything) we promised we'd stay friends and keep some semblance of family togetherness for the sake of our only child. After all, we don't have any other family nearby. It was just us three. So when Christmas rolled around that year, my ex-husband crashed on my sofa so he could help put out "Santa's" gifts under the tree and then be there first thing Christmas morning. I think he may have assumed he'd do the same thing this year, until I sent him a text telling him otherwise.
It was kind of a last-minute decision of mine. I thought for a long time about what I wanted my holidays to feel like this year. And I decided I wanted them to feel like moving forward, all of us. I've been dating someone for a few months, someone I care about a lot. I wanted to share our holidays with him.
It hurt my ex that he wouldn't be there first thing Christmas morning. But more than that, it hurt for him to get that reminder that I was moving on. The split has been harder for him than for me for a number of reasons. He's been resisting change, while I've been pushing change.
As much as I need to feel the momentum of moving forward with my life, I had our child's feelings to consider, too -- and I knew he wanted his father there. So I invited my ex to join us for Christmas dinner. The idea of creating my own kind of family, regardless of what's usually "done" is exciting -- and daunting. I was anxious about how it would all go.
My boyfriend didn't say so until after, but felt a little nervous. He had met my ex-husband before, but they'd never spend any time together. He realized why this was important to me and was amazingly okay with having Christmas dinner with his girlfriend's ex-husband (which is why he's a keeper!).
And then there was my son. How would he feel about all this? I talked with him, and he surprised me. He said he was just glad one more person was joining us. And really, that's the intention I wanted to set for the holiday, one of inclusiveness and expansion. Ehrm, with limits, that is.
Our neighbors (a single mom and her daughter) joined us as well, so that took the pressure off substantially. We all sat down and pretended this was all perfectly normal, which maybe it will be! Someday.
Afterward my boyfriend chatted with my neighbor, the kids ran off to play, and my ex-husband cleared the dishes and loaded the dishwasher. I took a few deep breaths and relaxed. It was all right! What a relief.
A week later, New Year's rolled around and I made the mistake of not clarifying plans with everyone. My boyfriend came over again and we enjoyed a quiet evening at home ... and then my ex-husband crashed our little party just after dinner. I was annoyed, at first. I'd assumed he had some fun single-guy party to attend. But he was lonely and wanted to be with our son. I let it slide. We all toasted the New Year, and I reminded myself to be clearer with everyone about plans in the future. I mean, I'm all about inclusiveness, but with boundaries.
The new year is always about creating the life you want, right here, right now. I'm not sure what the holidays will look like next year. But I do know now that they don't have to look like everyone else's holidays.
How does your family handle holidays post-divorce?
Image via Gail Fisher/Flickr