Q: The holidays are coming up and our divorce has been final for three years. My adult kids have asked my new husband and me to join them, along with their father (my ex) and his new girlfriend. The divorce was very painful – he cheated, not with this girlfriend. But after more than 20 years of marriage and although I’ve moved on, the thought of spending the holidays with him is the last thing I want to do. Love the kids and grandkids, but he broke my heart and the holidays are particularly difficult. How do I tell the kids no? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Although it would be nice for all to put their garbage behind them, I always say never spend the holidays with an ex until you’re ready. Even though good ex-etiquette rule No. 1 is “Put the kids first,” and many would think putting your stuff aside in the name of the kids is the right thing to do, if you aren’t there yet, it’s best to decline until you can be relaxed enough to allow everyone to enjoy themselves.
If you’re stressed, your kids will sense it, your new husband will sense it and that anxiety will color the celebration.
I vote for declining this year if that’s how you feel, using ex-etiquette rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward,” as your guide, and get some counseling if necessary so that you can possibly participate comfortably next year. What to say?
“Honey, I’m just not ready this year, but it’s not out of the question down the road. My goal is that by next year things will be less raw and we can celebrate as you wish.”
In a couple of sentences you are declining the invite, but offering hope for the future and committing to improvement.
Holiday traditions help keep our families strong. Because there is a break-up doesn’t automatically mean traditions must be abandoned. Altering the tradition – integrating old and new – can demonstrate the love you have for your family, plus the hope for a new future with new loved ones.
In my case, there were well established traditions in place that integrated my bonusfamily with extended family on both sides – but that tradition had to be altered as our family configuration changed. Sometimes there were just too many homes to get to on one day and when grandkids were added, my kids and bonuskids could not be as spontaneous or as mobile as they once were.
Truthfully, all I care about is having everyone together at some point around the holidays, it doesn’t have to be on Thanksgiving Day – or Christmas Day, for that matter. So we now have Thanksgiving at my house the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Everyone can go wherever they need to for the traditional Thursday dinner, but come that Saturday everyone knows the party starts at 3 o’clock.
Exes may come if they like, but if it’s too difficult, life is too short to stress about it. I just hope for improvement each year, and look to the rules of good ex-etiquette for inspiration.
I particularly like rule No. 7, “Use empathy when problem solving,” this time of year. “Don’t be spiteful” and “Don’t hold grudges” apply as well.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at: