It’s that time of year for the annual question to divorced moms and dads:
What kind of parent will you be?
Will you be the mother or father who casts aside lingering resentments for the sake of your kids’ happy holidays? Or will you be the ex-spouse who wages a war in which no one wins and every child loses?
It’s the holidays. Time to be grown-ups, dear parents, no matter how small you feel.
Every year, more than a million children will experience post-divorce holidays for the first time. Add the 21 million children already living among the ranks of the separated and divided and you get an idea of the multitude of ways mothers and fathers can poison what should be a magical time in the lives of the kids they love.
I’m not preaching from the lofty perch of a long marriage that spawned a string of perfect childhoods. I was a single mom for more than a decade. I’m as human and flawed as they come.
My children are well into adulthood, and we shared many happy times getting them there, but I look at some photos from those singlemother years and my stomach still seizes. Not all memories come with a warm soundtrack. You can have the best reasons for divorcing, but there’s always that moment — usually many moments — when you have to look into the wide eyes of your children and convince them you aren’t nearly so scared as you look.
Fear does crazy things to people, including parents who never dreamed they’d be raising children by themselves. So many nights, I walked the floors like a ghost in my own house. Sometimes churning, occasionally plotting. I understand too well the temptation to see time with your children as the only weapon you have left to hurt the person who wounded you. I am forever grateful to the wise friend who gave me this mantra long before actress Carrie Fisher laid claim to it: Resentment is when you drink the poison and expect the other person to die.
Unless abuse is an issue, there is no justifiable reason for us to come between our children and the other parent we once loved. Our children want to feel free to love both of us, and it’s liberating as a parent to make it so. Our kids can come and go with full hearts, and we give our own hearts a chance to heal.
This isn’t my first column about children of divorce during the holidays. Once a single mother, always a single mother, I guess. As soon as the leaves begin to change where I live I start thinking about those 1 million new children of divorce, as well as the countless letters and calls over the years from frustrated parents — and heartbroken grandparents — across the country.
This year, I’m writing as a grandmother, too. Funny thing about that little milestone. Your kid has a child, and suddenly you’re divorced from his or her parent all over again. Again you’re splitting time. Or you’re not.
You can’t undo what happened long ago. The memories of holidays past either inspire our children or haunt them, and they set the stage for what comes next.
I promise, all you divorced parents of young children: Years from now, you will want to be the parent who, so many holidays ago, was willing to share.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. ©2011 Creators