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Some families are messed up, while others are fine

December 12, 2012

When you’re divorced, the holiday season can be a rough time. Your mailbox and whatever social media outlets you pay attention to are filled with news and images of picturesque homes decorated by happy, intact families who want to tell you all about how fabulous their lives are.

During the first couple of winters after my divorce, I became a Holiday Hermit. I didn’t open the Christmas cards and tuned out of Facebook, because all of that Holiday Cheer was just a grim reminder of what my Christmas was destined not to be. I was bitter and jealous enough to have earned a pair of Scrooge-ian muttonchops.

Eventually, it helped me to remember that much of that cheer was just a PR sham manufactured for our consumption, and many of those people were secretly as miserable as I was.

And eventually, as I re-discovered my happier self, I wasn’t even all that pissed off at the couples who still did love each other and whose houses looked like the December edition of Architectural Digest. If they were still happily together, they’d probably worked really hard at it and deserved whatever they had.

Even now that my holiday mood has returned mostly to normal, I still get occasional twinges of what could have been. It’s stupid and sentimental and pointless, I know. But I’ve lived long enough to know that a part of me will always indulge stupid, pointless sentimentality.

Last month, Moxie asked me to come over and take a picture of her and the boys for her Christmas card. I was happy to do it, and I got a great shot of them laughing and hugging on her front stoop. There’s been an unexpected development, though: When I look at it on my phone I can’t help but feel a small frisson of loss. I mean, we had a great (sort-of) family moment while they posed for the picture and I made dopey faces to make the kids laugh. But in the end, it’s a picture of the three of them, and even though I was right there, not two feet away, I’m not in it. I’m on the outside, separate from those three smiling faces. And that small, twinge-susceptible part of me that will never go away thought I should be on that side of the camera, with them, instead of alone over here.

The super-majority of me, however, is comforted by the fact that the joy in that picture is not a manufactured sham. We are genuinely getting happier, because we’ve worked really hard at it and deserve whatever we have.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Lena permalink
    December 12, 2012 5:50 pm

    I can’t bear to not spend Christmas with my kids so for the third year their Dad and I will celebrate together with the kids, it’s like the stories of the soldiers celebrating Christmas together, leaving our differences aside for 48hrs or so.

    What bothers me is every movie with divorced parents has them get back together. We warch a lot of movies over the holidays and last year was the Jurassic Park trilogy, even that had parents reunite. Very unrealistic as we are much happier not together.

    • December 13, 2012 2:01 pm

      A Christmas Truce! Always an excellent idea.

      And yes, movies haven’t been all that useful when it comes to dramatizing divorce. Although the ending of “Mrs. Doubtfire” did a nice job of breaking the mold.

    • Rick permalink
      December 14, 2012 4:55 am

      I think movies frequently deliver messages of hope. Failed relationships are reconciled. Terminal illnesses are cured. Favorite dead pets can come back to life (Frankenweenie).
      People want Christmas miracles.

      I read a statistic earlier…no idea if it is accurate or not…that 14% of couples that divorce remarry each other. It seems possible. What I read were that the best chance of that happening occurs when couples ended the marriage amicably.

  2. Rick permalink
    December 13, 2012 1:52 pm

    My brother separated from his wife and has told me how badly the DisneyWorld commercials featuring a family of four busting through the gates while holding hands with mile-wide smiles on their faces bother him.

    My wife has been planning to divorce for over a year from me. We had no Christmas Card. This year, it is awkward because I want one, but I’m not sure what to do. We are still living together with our kids that don’t know about the pending chaos about to enter their lives.

    • December 13, 2012 2:04 pm

      I get that, and I guess it all depends on where you are in terms of the pending divorce. If your marriage is over and you’ve come to accept it, then make your own card independent of your wife.

      • Rick permalink
        December 13, 2012 2:19 pm

        I’m either the optimist or the naive fool holding out for a Christmas miracle that turns things around. We don’t fight. I don’t want a divorce and am willing to do anything to turn it around. I just need my wife to meet me halfway. Alas, she currently has other plans.

  3. Mark permalink
    December 17, 2012 4:36 pm

    I brought my son to a Christmas party this weekend, where everyone else was there with their kids and their spouse. I was the only single parent there and I kept feeling these weird twinges looking around at the other couples and their kids. Even though my ex never wanted to do the social thing and never came to these sorts of events even when we were together, so it’s not like the actual experience of being at the party was any different than before we split. (As a matter of fact, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the party at all had we still been an intact family.) It’s a very weird feeling, to recognize that even though maybe I’m better off now, part of me still wishes for my family back.

  4. January 7, 2013 2:54 pm

    What a nice message at the end that “the joy is not a manufactured sham. We are genuinely getting happier, because we’ve worked really hard at it and deserve whatever we have”. Definitely it is something achieved from all what we did to make our relation strong, loving, and reliable…it was really touching story and the people who are just separated, can better understand what they have lost.

  5. Mikk permalink
    March 6, 2014 10:09 pm

    Hey Doug, I know what you mean about the holidays. When my wife and I were separated and almost divorced, it was right around thanksgiving and it so happened that my 2 kids were with their mom over thanksgiving and not me. It was pretty hard to handle at the time. To make matters worse, I live where my wife grew up and everything holiday related revolved around her family so I was completely on my own during this phase and it really sucked. Luckily my wife and I later got back together and I started a blog to inspire others facing marital issues and show them how we saved our marriage. You can read about my story here. I hope it inspires others and can help.

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