Begin by taking a Christmas blessing for yourself: congratulations on being a good ex. You have helped nurture a close relationship between your children and their father and shown maturity as you negotiate that rocky post-divorce road.
Now you will need to apply this same hard-won wisdom to a new situation.
Your ex-husband should not be part of all the Christmas celebrations of your new family. Your ex needs to create new Christmas traditions of his own, and so do you and your new partner. Your children need to see him display his independence from the first marriage. But you can help.
This is a good year to reinforce the notion that it is the season of Advent and Christmas, not merely one big blow-out day. The December/January calendar provides a multitude of options to drive home the meaning of the larger holiday — and the message that your ex-husband must carve out a new role for himself.
The non-Christmas-Day activities in which you can both be involved, with or without your new husband, are endless: church pageants, school concerts, choir and dance recitals. The children can have both parents present and see solid joint parenting in action despite marital status. Remember, they are redefining their parts, as well.
Acknowledge extended ex-family, too. Relatives of non-custodial parents are often isolated by divorce. You have already proved generosity of spirit. Go further and invite Nana or the ex-brother-in-law to the Service of the Lessons and the Carols. Play host to doughnuts in the café afterward to reinforce the moment. It is a gift for children to see forgiveness and reconciliation enacted on the small domestic stage of their lives.
Why this display of warmth? Are you planning on becoming the patron saint of divorcees? No, you are demonstrating that your ex should be starring in his own Christmas Carol. Not playing Morley in yours.
Someone told Jesus, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’”
One of my favourite lines from The Simpsons is “Won’t anybody please think of the children?” I find the sentimentalism of family life in general and children in particular a little tired and nonsensical. I don’t think family decisions ought to be made entirely on the whims of our children’s wants. I’m not a believer in permissive parenting.
Having said that, the bond between a parent and a child is vitally important for all concerned. It provides emotional stability, identity and, most of all, unconditional love. I can’t see how it would be healthy to break this bond on the sole basis of an unenthusiastic new partner.
Presuming that the father of these children has a place of his own, why not ask the children to spend some time celebrating the yuletide at his home? Surely their holidays can encompass many time periods: Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, Christmas afternoon, Christmas dinner, Boxing Day, etc. Why not apportion these times and have the children move back and forth between the two households?
The temptation in all of this is to use your new partner’s discomfort to deny your children and your former partner some tender moments of deep affection.
It is not uncommon for both former partners, no matter who left whom, to carry grudges, hurts and grievances. Under the guise of doing what is best for the children, many will seek to settle a score, even if they are not conscious of this.
The Jesus in whom I have placed my faith made no distinctions and played no favourites when it came to demonstrating love’s ethical dimension. He went to those who needed him most and advocated for those who were most likely to be passed over. We can do no less.
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