The holiday season after divorce can be challenging on many different fronts, especially when you have children. Toss the ex's family into the mix and it can be downright stressful. It makes one want to run for the hills.
I learned during the first few years post-divorce how to navigate the holidays with the ex in-laws and ex-stepchildren. I kept remembering the Golden Rule: treat them how I would want to be treated.
My first dilemma was the question of sending of Christmas cards to ex family members. I asked my mother if I should send Christmas cards that first year. She gave me an answer that I've used in numerous situations: "Why make something out of nothing?" It was so simple and to the point. I was married for over 13 years and had good relations with my step-children and in-laws. I sent Christmas cards that year and every year since.
I also send Christmas cards to my ex's aunt and uncle that I only met once early in my marriage. I had such a lovely time with them that one day that I started exchanging Christmas cards with them that year. To this day, we exchange personal notes and pictures in our annual Christmas cards about a niece they have never met. The cards I receive from them are cherished because it taught me that although I divorced my ex, I did not divorce his family.
My second dilemma was regarding gift giving. My ex in-laws and I always exchange gifts for the holidays and birthdays; that practice continues to this day even though I've been divorced for nearly 10 years.
With my ex-stepchildren, it is a different story. They were never into sending Christmas cards nor much into giving gifts when I was married, and I wasn't expecting that to change once divorced. The first couple of years I would send them gift cards to local restaurants since that's what I did when I was married.
I never received a thank you and gifts were never sent to my daughter -- their half-sister. After a few years, I just stopped sending gift cards but have always sent a Christmas card. It didn't change our relationship at all; I can always count on them calling to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving or a Merry Christmas, which is better than any card or gift they could send.
When it comes to spending time with ex-family during the holidays, all of my ex's family lives in California and we are in Chicago. I'm a stronger believer that it's important for my daughter to spend time with her family. It makes no difference if it's my family or my ex's family -- family is family. My daughter and I traveled back to California last holiday season.
In addition to visiting with my family, we spent a few days at my ex in-laws house. We also made time to visit with my stepchildren and their families. Reflecting back on our visit, I am so grateful that I adhered to the golden rule in the early years after my divorce. For today, my daughter has a relationship with all of her family. The ex-family has given me the greatest gift that can't be wrapped in a package; they freely have given of their time and love regardless of my marriage status.