First, I haven’t written a blog in months. Mostly, I’ve been settling into a new full time job in a new community. With my shift in career focus, I’ve struggled to find the time (and the courage) to continue baring my soul. Sarah has continued to write. While I’ve had the urge to blog many times, I’m finally giving into the desire.
We started our blog as a way to communicate with our loved ones. It was a way to share our strange, new journey with those in our lives. From the get-go, we’ve figured that we’d rather be honest about this unconventional path we’re on than be the subjects of speculation. Also, blogging has brought clarity. Both of us have enjoyed writing since we first learned to spell our names. It’s one of the many things we have in common. I used to want to be an author and even remember turning in a chapter book in second grade for a one-page writing assignment. While my teacher was impressed, she did make me redo the project and stick to the original parameters. And, thanks to the organizational superpowers of my mother-in-law, I’ve been able to get small glimpses of my wife’s childhood through her journals, stories, original plays, and numerous novels.
Blogging can be so freeing. Yet, there is a very real vulnerability to it. I’m allowing others to share in my most private thoughts. That is powerful, real, and scary! Three years ago, I made the conscious choice to live my life authentically and I have rarely second-guessed that decision. So, here it goes.
Parenting Through Divorce
Today, I write to clear my head. This morning, Sarah and I woke up to an empty home. All five of our children are spending this Christmas morning at their other homes. It is a first for both of us. This is my fifth Christmas as a mom and the first one without a child in the house. This is Sarah’s fifteenth Christmas as a mom and her first one without a child in the house. We knew weeks ago that this would be the case and I think we have both vacillated between excitement and agony. We settled on spending the day in pajamas, putting together a puzzle, trying a new recipe, and binge watching our favorite Netflix show. All in all, not a bad day.
When I learned I was pregnant nearly five years ago, I never imagined there might be a Christmas where my child did not wake to the excitement of Santa and presents in my home. But, here we are. In truth, of five Christmas mornings as a mother, I’ve only had two where my beautiful son woke in my home and they were the final two Christmases I spent with his dad, my ex-husband.
Just writing that last sentence brings forth so many emotions: sadness, guilt, insecurity, surprise. I can explain each Christmas, I promise! You should know that while my ex-husband and I have an outlined custody agreement, we’ve never followed it. When we divorced, the judge was uncomfortable with our plan: “play it by ear and work together to do what is right for the kid.” So, we had to put something on paper. That paper says how the holidays will be divided, but we’ve still chosen to play it by ear. And, three years in, it is working just fine.
The first Christmas after my divorce, he was with his dad on Christmas Eve and woke there Christmas morning. Since his dad is a firefighter with a rotating 24-hour shift, holidays are celebrated when work allows. That year it just happened that his dad had both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off (this only happens about every third year). It made sense that our son would be with him. After our two-year-old found his one Santa gift, he and his dad made their way to my house so that we could all spend Christmas together. That was a good year. Just six months into our divorce and we spent Christmas together.
The second Christmas after my divorce, my son was again with his dad on Christmas Eve. He’d flown to Alabama for Thanksgiving with Sarah and so it seemed only fair that his dad would get Christmas. Plus, his dad and his stepmom (they aren’t married, but live together, share a life, have a child, and for all intents and purposes it’s simpler to recognize and respect her role this way) joined us for Christmas Eve brunch before taking their brood to Denver for Christmas. The boy returned to us on Christmas night and we felt it was the best of both worlds.
This year, my son’s dad and stepmom are settling into a new home in the same town as us. He has a new baby sister and it is her first Christmas. My wife’s children are at their dad’s house, so it didn’t make any sense to keep our energetic four-year-old here when all the excitement is elsewhere. We got to spend part of Christmas Eve with him and take him to church with us before having a hot cocoa and Christmas light date, so it was a good balance.
See? All three make sense.
Still, part of me feels guilty. I’m a mom. My Christmas should be about my kids. Right? Mostly when this thought enters my head, I am able to quickly shake it. Each of our kids is having a wonderful Christmas morning. They woke in warm beds in homes full of love. And, thanks to a large extended family, none of them are hurting in the gift department. All five will return home tomorrow evening and we’ll celebrate another round of Christmas in our home with our family. Each child has a stocking here and gifts under the tree. In our “situation,” holidays are just extended is all. That’s not the worst thing that could happen to a kid.
The last thing I want to share is this: I grew up in divorce. My parents separated when I was four years old. My sisters and I alternated years with our mom and dad. Although my parents’ relationship was not as smooth as the one I share with my ex-husband, they mostly tolerated and cooperated with the other. I never felt jilted as a kid. I felt loved. I knew my mom loved me and that my dad loved me. I knew that all four grandparents loved me. I knew that my eight uncles and ten aunts loved me. I understood that my mom had fewer financial resources than my dad. And, although that made my mom feel insecure around the holidays, I did not favor my dad because he could afford to give “better” gifts. In fact, underneath my bed right now in my box of treasured items is a doll my mom made me for Christmas when I was nine or ten. I’ll have that doll for my whole life because it means so much.
I always wanted the traditional Christmas for my children. But, here we are. And, what I can control is this: as long as I love my children and their fathers, I could never go wrong. The fastest way to mess it all up? To allow my guilt to drive our plans. I am determined not to do that because our kids deserve the best.
The point is, kids endure. They are smart. They are empathetic. They are not suffering. They are flourishing in love, even if it is not picture perfect.
Merry Christmas from this alternative mom!