The “Broken” Family Christmas

The first year after our divorce, my ex husband and I, still reeling from the changes, still united in helping our kids feel as little of the effects of our choices, spent Christmas together with his parents, and my mom and brother.

And for the first time in years, we didn’t fight on Christmas Day, not until a brief moment at 4pm, because we were all holding on so tightly to the effort of making the day perfect. If I had to pinpoint the moment I started hating Christmas, it was probably that year. Or maybe the one after it, when my ex’s new girlfriend came into the picture, and suddenly someone else was baking cookies and buying Christmas outfits for my children. (That was also the year I threw cookies at the back of my ex’s head, but that’s a story for another day).

Back to hating Christmas.

I used to like it. I remember enjoying all of it  – decorating my house, baking cookies, shopping for gifts. But now, Christmas was an emblem for how broken we are, and how terribly I had “failed”.

You see, Demi and Bruce and Ashton had me convinced that divorced couples could continue to operate like a family for their kids. I was determined for that to be what our post divorce world looked like – two people who had fallen out of love, but who could still like each other enough to pull it together for the kids, when it counted. And because of that, even though at times it twisted my stomach into unhappy knots, I tried to be as open and welcoming as I could be, for my ex, his family, and his new girlfriend. And yes, there were days I left my grace solidly at the door, because divorce is messy and ugly and sometimes there’s swearing and screaming, but I really do think for awhile there we were all trying.

Christmas approaches. Tomorrow is actually my Christmas Day with my children, as I gave up the actual day this year so my kids didn’t have to bounce back and forth every day for four days straight. I wanted an entire day to spend with them and enjoy, instead of a day abbreviated by a midday switch. But even negotiating that was a testament to how much we aren’t like Demi, Bruce and Ashton. There were emails, and a mediator referee. There were weeks between the initial request and our final decision. Some days, I wonder if we fight just for the sake of winning, instead of for the sake of doing what will help the kids not carry our burden. Some days, I am more than ready to throw in the towel, and announce a sudden, unexpected trip to Fiji over the holidays. See you in January!

I have not baked a single cookie. I wrapped gifts alone last night, watching Gilmore Girls on my iPad. There’s something hollow about preparing Christmas as a single adult. It feels less like a celebration and more like a duty. And I’m constantly reminded of how this “broken” family Christmas is an oddly cobbled together concoction – new traditions I’m not sure will stick, slightly confused kids, and my own yearning for something that more closely resembles normal. Because while we’ve repeated our day to day enough times that it’s the new normal we exist in, Christmas hasn’t come around often enough, and the schedule hasn’t had any regularity in four years, and so, every year feels like I’m inventing it all over again. And my kids? Well, you know when you tell a really funny joke and the person you told just stares at you, blankly? That’s their general reaction. This is weird for all of us, I’m probably just the only one with the vocabulary for it.

Despite all that, yesterday, I caught myself reminding someone in an online group that her family isn’t broken – and neither is mine. My little family of three is exactly as it should be – and this holiday is exactly as it should be, even if I’m still trying to figure out our rhythm. And though I hate Christmas lately, I’m hopeful that I can find the magic in it again, even if it just lasts for the amount of time tomorrow it takes my kids to rip into their small pile of gifts. Christmas is the perfect microcosm of whatever you’re going through in your family dynamic – boiled down to a highly concentrated form, your dysfunction, your stress spots, and your love all get a little more obvious. The goal, for me, is seeing that even if it’s hard, we still get through it. Even when it’s not quite what we might have hoped for, it’s still pretty damn good.

Happy Holidays, friends.

Stephanie Ostermann

I’m the sort of girl who you meet for coffee and end up pouring your entire heart out to. The friend you come to when you need someone to call it straight. No bullshit. No extras. Just truth.

I’m a communicator. That’s a PC way of saying I like to talk, but I also spend a lot of my time listening, and over the years, I’ve developed a sense for subtext – how one or two words can change your entire message, what people are really trying to say and how to weave the varied layers of your story into one cohesive brand message that your clients fall in love with.

When I'm not acting as editor in chief for Vivid & Brave, you can find me geeking out over words here.

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