The holidays are not upon us but they are not far away either. If you are separated and your holiday plans for sharing custody are not, “set” it is well-nigh time to begin the discussion because November is not a good time to start Thanksgiving discussions and December is going to follow immediately.
If this has been your “separation” year for good or for bad, you need to understand that when it comes to old holiday traditions, all bets may be off. Yes, your family has always spent Christmas Eve preparing the seven fishes at grandma’s house. But this year, one of the fish is not being invited and that fish may put up a stink about it. Typically, Courts divide holidays and alternate major ones so that both parents have a crack at Christmas morning or the first Seder. One parent will get the odd years and another the even ones.
But, this short essay has another consideration too, and it is one courts do not customarily address. If you separated this year, it is not unlikely that the separation brought a new person into the family picture. Perhaps you were the one who fell in love with someone at the gym or on Facebook. Perhaps, your spouse returned from his or her high school reunion with an old romance rekindled. As most of us recall, new romance offers a special thrill. For most, it is exhilarating. If you have ever been the person who was “dumped,” the feeling is not quite the same.
Typically, exhilaration prompts a desire for celebration. Get a promotion at work and you want the whole family to celebrate, just as you would when a child completes an achievement, whether finishing kindergarten or graduating school. But, romance is a lot trickier when family is “involved.”
Rarely do two spouses fall into new relationships at the same time. So usually, when a separation occurs, one-person steps into a new relationship while another is left without any. Imagine being a child, of any age, and encountering your first holiday with one parent ecstatic about his or her new love and another mourning the failure of a marriage. One parent is telling you where they went and what they did with their new love interest, while the other is visibly in pain from the same separation.
If you are the parent in the “new” relationship, for the sake of your kids “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” They are in an incredibly awkward position. They will be celebrating the holidays with two parents, one wanting to fete a new relationship to a degree that becomes nauseating, the other mourning the loss of one. For children of all ages, whether their parents had a good marriage or a bad one, it is the only marriage they knew growing up. Separation signals the death of their parents’ relationship and that is a death that they are trying to cope with. They may actually like your new best friend or perceive merit in your marital decision. Even when parents separate based on common understandings, if one parent has a date on New Years’ Eve and the other does not, the one “without” will feel inferior and “judged”.
Oh, and lest the point be missed, do not assume that your children will share the same attraction to your new friend that you do. They will often judge that person harshly as the catalyst of their family’s break up whether the fact is true or not. They certainly will be curious to meet the new Mr. or Ms. Right, but they will also be suspicious. Since the Middle Ages, we have lived in a world where marriage has been viewed as a “forever event”. A lot has changed in the past century but even the most cynical of us view marriage as more important than who provides your cable contract or cleans your furnace. If you are happily separated, enjoy your joy quietly, and, don’t delude yourself into thinking that your joy is shared by your kids, no matter what their age.