Do The Children Of Divorce Really Come First During The Holidays?

By  | 

rag doll tug of warMommyish writer Lindsay Cross has an ongoing article entitled “Splitsville” that focuses on the trials and tribulations of being separated parents. Her most recent articles have addressed the problems of sorting out holiday schedules in order to best fit everyone involved. In a culture where approximately half of all marriages end in divorce, hers is a common plight.

Some of these couples have invested thousands of dollars in court documents that will dictate exactly when and how the children will move from one parent to the next, but reality is very different from what it says on paper. Grandparents want more time, cousins are visiting at the wrong time, and each parent is determined to make sure they get the same – if not more – time than the other parent. As they hash out every last detail, though, perfecting the system of dad’s house – to mom’s house – to grandma’s house – to dad’s grandma’s house, someone always gets left out. Someone always gets forgotten. Someone always gets the short end of the proverbial stick because it’s simply too difficult to please everyone. Unfortunately, the forgotten one is all too often the child.

While the scenario doesn’t apply to every child of divorced parents, the aformentioned is pervasive in my observation.

Some parents are going to insist that they put their children first, that their children want to do it this way, that their children enjoy having more than one Christmas . . . but that’s still the parents talking. Think about the conversations in these situations. The mom says, “I’m the one who takes Junior to the doctors’ appointments, the dentists’ appointments, and basketball practice. I’ve paid my dues. I should get her on Christmas!” while the father says, “My parents want to see her, too! You let your parents watch her all the time, yet my folks only get to see her if I bring her over for the measly few days every other week that I get to have her. You aren’t being fair to my parents!” They go back and forth; they argue about when their siblings are coming, who has to drive more, and what they are going to miss out on because they’ll be busying taking their child to see the other parent, but they still haven’t mentioned the child as anything more than chattel.

Again, some parents are going to disagree with me. They may even ask their children first, but they will still disagree with me before it’s over. Yet what are the chances that their children are going to be completely honest? Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Their parents split up, promising them it will be easier because they will “stop all the fighting,” but the kid quickly learns the opposite is true. The parents didn’t stop fighting; they just traded arguments over whose turn it is to do the dishes and forgotten birthdays for arguments over child support payments and visitation schedules. The fighting still happens, but the child has had to pay the price in future family dinners, shared holidays, and more.

As the child has more experience living in this particular divorced family, they will soon begin to realize that a floodgate has been opened. The parents who can’t manage to be together for one day per year on Christmas are the same parents who are some day going to be invited to the same high school graduation, college graduation, wedding, and then they’ll start all over again with the grandchildren (only now they’ll have the added bonus of another set of parents – the father’s – who may or may not also be divorced). The parents will likely insist that they will manage to be in the same room for milestone events, but what qualifies? Can they come together for a band concert, or does it have to be truly life-changing? If they can get together for a band concert, why can’t they do the same for Christmas?

Soon the child begins to wonder, have I already had my last days as a member of one unified family? But only the parents really know the answer.

The good news in all of this is that the scars from divorce are not as permanent as the divorce itself. Most couples tend to let go of their ire after a decade or two apart. The kids grow to adulthood and learn a few tricks along the way, and the end result is a peaceful coexistence. New problems arise as grandchildren are born and have to be split three or four ways instead of two (my mother’s family, my father’s family, my husband’s parents’ family – thank goodness his parents are still married), but overall everyone has found a way to be a family — a broken, slightly brittle family — but a family just the same.

(photo: Shutterstock)