Splitsville: How To Handle Holidays That Never Go According To Plan

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

Parents plan and cooridnate. They schedule and share. They do everything in their power to create an enjoyable holiday experience for their darling offspring.

And then, the turkey takes an hour longer than expected and dinner time is pushed back. Or maybe a snowy afternoon turns your half hour commute into an hour and a half. Or Great-Great-Aunt Nancy is running really late but hasn’t seen her favorite great-great-niece in at least six months and might have a heart attack if her precious little girl leaves before she gets there. And let’s not even talk about cooking accidents and general family holiday mishaps. There’s a reason it’s the busiest time of year for hospitals.

No matter how much two parents try to perfectly split their holiday time, tis the season for unforeseen difficulties.

And let me tell you, it’s easy to get anger and frustrated when your to-the-minute schedule gets thrown off course. Last year, my ex had our daughter Christmas morning. I realized that as a separated parent, I was going to have to give up some special days, but Christmas morning was a hard one for me to stomach. But fair is fair and he deserved that time with his daughter. So I woke up Christmas morning alone, sharing a quiet breakfast and cup of hot chocolate with my husband. We were waiting for our little one to come home at 3pm, so that we could open presents and have a family dinner.

I sat in my living room, Christmas music blaring, admiring my tree and all the perfectly wrapped presents underneath it, ready for my daughter and her father to pull in to the driveway. 3 o’clock on the dot and I remembered what it was like on Christmas morning as a child, anxious and waiting for the precise minute when your parents said that you were allowed to wake them up. All that anticipation building up so that you might just scream with excitement. What can I say, I’m enthusiastic about the holidays?

By 3:15 I was pacing just a tad, peering out the window at the slightest sound. At 4pm exactly, because I had forced myself to wait that long, I called my daughter’s father. Worried that something had gone really wrong, I was relieved when he answered the phone right away. Once I realized that they hadn’t been in a horrendous car accident and that they were still at his family’s house… well let’s just say that I lost a lot of my holiday spirit. “Oh sorry,” he said, “We’ve just been visiting with a lot of family that Brenna hasn’t seen in a while. We’ll be home around 6pm.”

I was furious. I was upset and angry and hurt and basically furious. This wasn’t just three hours late. This was three hours late ON CHRISTMAS. The twinkling lights were going blurry with all the anger spinning in my head. I sent one fairly restrained text message, at least I thought it was, that said, “I thought we agreed that you guys would be back by 3. Please bring our daughter home as soon as you can.” After that, he knew that I was upset. He started texting, apologizing and assuring me that they would be home right away. I started feeling guilty.

My daughter got home and we had a wonderful evening. But the next day, my ex and I had to agree on two very important matters. Rule No. 1: Each person’s time is valuable and should be respected, but we need to have some leeway for special circumstances. Rule No. 2: Our daughter’s happiness is the most important factor.

Even though I had an evening full of Christmas cheer planned, my daughter was having fun and visiting with relatives that she doesn’t get to see very often. I deserved some heads up on what was going on, but for those couple hours, my daughter was probably where she needed to be. And even if I was angry, Christmas wasn’t the day to express it. It was the day to forgive and get over it, to move on and enjoy the day. Holidays are wonderful at screwing with your schedule, but they are even better at bringing a smile to your child’s face and giving kids traditions that will last for the rest of their life. As long as we all keep our focus in the right place, we’ll be just fine.