I’ve said it before, but divorced parenting is hard.
There’s no getting round the fact that when a relationship ends as badly as ours did, one of the few perks should be getting to NEVER see that person again as long as you live. But we’re parents, which means we’re stuck with each other.
Fortunately, we do both agree that Flea has a right to a close relationship with us both, so we make a concerted effort to get along, and be friendly, and sometimes both spend time with Flea together – because fractured as it might be, we’re still a family.
It’s an arrangement that’s not without its difficult moments.
But my ex sustains himself with the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing I once accidentally told Flea her hamster was dead (it wasn’t), while I will always have the memory of him dangling upside down, on a rope, halfway up a tree.
It gets easier over time, of course, to remember that your ex is probably good company in some ways – after all you did spend a good chunk of time with him in the dim and distant past.
As for the rest, it can be mostly overlooked with a touch of humour and a sense of perspective. I don’t have to live with my ex, so his flaws and quirks are really someone else’s problem these days. As are mine, for him (I’m saying that to sound fair, but it’s worth noting that I’m basically perfect).
At Christmas, arrangements can be especially fraught, because of course we both want to spend time with Flea, and for her to have the opportunity to see her extended family, too. We spend time with my parents, and my ex often takes her to see his brothers, and her cousins.
When you’re divorced, it’s hard not to come at Christmas with the notion you’ve already failed for not matching up to that TV idea of what Christmas should be – there’s never an ex-husband tipping up, or a second wife in those Asda and Tesco ads, is there?
So I tend to think a divorced Christmas should make life as easy as possible for all involved.
What works for us is
- Agreeing key dates in advance for special outings, eg to see Father Christmas or a pantomime
- Telling each other what we plan to buy as gifts, and splitting the cost of major purchases
- Encouraging Flea to decorate trees at both our homes, so they feel equally ‘special’ and fun at Christmas
- Sharing photos of events like present opening and nativity plays so even if something happens on a day Flea’s with me, her Dad doesn’t completely miss out
- Spending some of Christmas Day together – my ex might stay in the guest room Christmas Eve and spend the morning with us before we head off to see family, or we might stay with family, meaning my ex comes over later in the afternoon, after we get home
I know there are people who will think our relationship is odd but really, what’s the alternative?
A child who gets to open their presents in two different homes, with a frosty handover on the doorstep in between? Or alternating Christmas at different homes, meaning we each miss out on 50% of those Christmas mornings while Flea is young? I can’t think of anything I’d want to do less.
This year’s going to be especially challenging because my Mum, upon hearing that the ex was home alone this Christmas, has invited him to spend the day and have dinner with our family. My ex is a walking encyclopaedia and my Mum makes me look not-at-all-competitive, so the annual family Scrabble match is going to get interesting, I fear.
Still, with the right amount of festive spirit (by which I mean Baileys, obviously) I’m hopeful we’ll all get through it without actual bloodshed.
Although I will just say – I visited my parents today and my Mum has sneaked out this week and bought THIS. Christmas is gonna get ugly at the Whittles this year.