When co-parenting seems impossible, seek help from a pro

Jann Blackstone

Q. My parents have been divorced for 10 years. They get along but live in different states. I thought when I got older, I wouldn’t have to deal with where I would spend Christmas, but I do.

Now, I’m getting married, and not only do I have my two parents’ homes to cope with, I have my fiance’s parents, who also are divorced. Plus, married siblings who want me to visit them. Since COVID-19, this is the first year we can really be together, and everyone wants me there. It’s overwhelming. No one is happy, especially me. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. You can bet if you are feeling something, you are not the only one. You would be surprised how many emails I get asking how to handle this particular holiday. COVID-19 has prevented many from visiting and some told me they rejoiced because they didn’t have to make the decision where to go.

Now, things are opening somewhat, though conflicting reports predict craziness on the horizon, and people in the same position as you are saying, “OMG, not this again.”

Divorce and breakups affect us all at some point. If it’s not our parents’ divorce, it’s our sister’s or brother’s, grandparents’, child’s, best friend’s, even our own divorce. Breakups seem to set the stage — how you handle them is key to ensuring our family get-togethers run smoothly.

So what do you do when you can’t decide where to go? It’s great to be loved by so many, but you can’t make everyone happy; you’ve seen what happens when you try.

Ask yourself what you really want to do and set the wheels in motion. When you set your boundaries with love and make it clear to all how difficult it is to be everywhere, most will understand your decision. If they don’t, and try to assign blame, there are bigger problems than visiting them during the holidays, and it’s doubtful any decision you make will be acceptable.

In my case, I now have married kids in different states. I live near one; their dad lives near two; our youngest lives 400 miles from everyone. Some of my kids are Jewish; some are Christian. We have holidays all over the place, not to mention school breaks that don’t match up.

So with that schedule, it’s difficult to get everyone in one place. It may not be on Christmas, and it may not be all at the same time, but we do see each other at some point each year, and the groundwork we laid years ago still is apparent even now.

As in your case, with so many players — divorced parents, divorced in-laws, and siblings on both sides — it would be next to impossible to visit everyone in one or two days. Try not to put too much pressure on each other to be in a specific place on a certain day. Communicating how much you care for each other is what is important, and that does not have to be assigned to one day in November or December.

The best thing I can suggest that may alleviate some of the guilt and offer some holiday spirit is to initiate a holiday family Zoom call. Send the link to everyone with plenty of warning, assign a time and, thanks to the wonders of technology, you can be together. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Blackstone is founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com, and may be contacted at dr.jann@exetiquette.com.