Q: My children are adults, both married. I divorced their father 12 years ago, and have been remarried nine years to a wonderful man with a wonderful family. To make things easy on themselves, my children have decided to start having holidays that include both their dad and his wife and my husband and I, at the same events. There is still tension under the surface between my ex and I, and to me it is ruining my holidays. I agreed to this for the first time for this Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I truly do not want to do it again. Please tell me there is some etiquette for this!
A: It sounds as if your kids’ solution to the holiday chaos of trying to get to everyone’s home on one day is to just have everyone at their home. However, spending the holidays with an ex is not for the faint of heart – and should only be done if all parties are ready for it. All – as in everyone attending.
So, if you are truly uncomfortable, I suggest you rely on Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 8, “Be honest and straightforward,” and tell your kids how you feel well in advance of the next holiday. Be tactful during your explanation, and do not under any circumstances bad-mouth or blame dad for your decision. (Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 3.) No, “Honey, I just can’t do this anymore. Your father still drives me crazy and his wife makes me nuts.” You have to own it all by yourself. Just remember, good ex-etiquette suggests that you offer alternatives when declining an invite. “If you’d like to spend Christmas with your dad next year, that’s fine. Let’s choose another date for a holiday celebration at our home.”
But, let’s step back for a second. The first rule for good ex-etiquette is, “Put your children first.”
In your initial question you said celebrating with the ex is ruining your holidays. If it’s been 12 years since your breakup, that means your children have endured 12 years of trying to juggle a contentious mom and dad. Most likely their holidays have been ruined for quite some time. It wouldn’t be uncommon now that they are adults to want to control their own environment – and having everyone under their roof for the holidays would allow them to do just that. They are no longer at the mercy of contentious parents. They can set the pace in their own home.
So, the rule of good ex-etiquette that you are looking for is being suggested to you by your own children. They see that not holding a grudge (Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 5) and not being spiteful (Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 6) will allow them to move on, have a less stressful holiday, and set a better example for their own children. It’s time to take a cue from your own kids – that is, if you want to see them next year.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.