Blending Your Families? You’d Better Come Up With A Plan!
“I’ve been invited to their house for Memorial Day! I need to know; how do I do this? How did you do this?”
It is May 2009 and I am sitting in Marciano’s Café at Fred Segal in Los Angeles with my friend Melanie. Melanie is supposed to be in back-to-back meetings all day, but she had her assistant make time for me because I’d sounded so desperate on the phone.
“How do I do what?” I see a flash of brilliant white teeth as she pops a piece of focaccia into her mouth.
“Holidays. How do I spend holidays with Manny and Olivia and their baby? Doesn’t it bother you?”
I don’t say the other words I’m thinking. Doesn’t it bother you that he left you for her? Doesn’t it bother you that it was so public? Doesn’t it bother you that they have a baby together?
Melanie swallows her bread and smiles at me, placing a well-manicured hand on my elbow.
“All that matters are the boys, right?” She says referring to their 6 and 8-year-old sons. “It’s simple because I just do it for the boys. Plus girl, I don’t want that man anymore. That makes it simpler too.”
Melanie comes up with a “how to co-parent” plan for my first holiday at my ex-husband and his new wife’s house:
- “First,” she said, “since you don’t drink, you want to arrive just when food is being served, so you can avoid sitting around all by yourself or trying to make small talk.”
- “Second, your boys are the same ages as my kids, right? You should casually inform your ex and your boys that you’ll be leaving at a certain time. This way your kids will have time to emotionally prepare for your leaving early and your ex will be probably be relieved that you’re not trying to stay there all night.”
- “Don’t forget a hostess gift, buy something she’ll like, that will go a long way. I always buy Olivia a nice bottle of wine, but if that’s tricky for you. being sober and all, just get them a candle or some potted roses or something. And maybe see if you can bring a guest? Don’t you usually have family in town?”
- “Get movie tickets for a show that starts no less than 3 hours after your scheduled arrival time, so you don’t have to make an up an excuse for leaving.”
- “Like our girl, Oprah says, you can do anything for under two hours. Mingle, smile and ask people how they are, folks love to talk about themselves. You won’t have to defend your post-divorce status if they’re telling you about their new house or where their kids got into school.”
- “And lastly girl, remember you’re nobody’s victim. You’re a free woman. Free by choice. Hold your head high. When you walk up in there. You don’t want him, right? So nobody needs to feel sorry for you.”
I am chanting Melanie’s words in my head as I walk up the driveway to my ex-husband’s house for our first post-divorce Thanksgiving.
All that matters are my boys. All that matters are my boys. I’m nobody’s victim. I’m nobody’s victim.
So far, I am following Melanie’s plan precisely. I’ve brought a beautifully wrapped candle, and I’ve handed it to his new wife. I’ve purchased tickets for the five o’clock movie at theatre down the street. I’ve brought my dad with me as he is visiting for the holiday. And I’ve told my sons and my ex that I would be leaving for the movie with my dad about 4:30.
Conscious of keeping my neck extended and my head held high, I roam around their house during the fifteen-minute gap between my arrival and dinner time with an ice-cold glass of lime-wedged soda water, smiling politely and listening to stories. But despite all of my prep, Thanksgiving still feels like a blur of awkward small talk, sparkly wine glasses, and uncomfortable silences. I am finding during all of these brief conversations that I suddenly don’t know what to do with my hands. And for every sip that someone takes of their fragrant red wine, I am desperately afraid that I am staring for too long at their glass or saying too little. I am both relieved and inexplicably saddened when my dad and I depart for our movie at 4:30.
Will it always be this hard?
Nine years have passed since then. Every year since my ex and his wife have invited me to holiday barbecues at their house and every year I have gone. I still bring my dad with me, but now they also invite my boyfriend, his daughters, my college-aged brother, and his girlfriend. I still always buy a hostess present, one that I pick out with his wife in mind and I still buy movie tickets for Thanksgiving evening. But now, after years of practice and sitting through my own discomfort, there is an absolute sense of ease and freedom when I walk through the doors to their home. There is still small talk, but it’s no longer awkward. And at ten year’s sober, I’m no longer hyper-aware of my club soda or their red wine. My kids, now both adults, revel in having their whole, extended, blended family together for one giant holiday meal.
This year, Tina, my newly divorced mommy-friend, asks me to lunch just before the holiday weekend. After we sit down, and with that same look of desperation in her eyes that I had nine-years ago, she blurts out, “how do you do it? How do you get along with your ex and his wife so well? How do you spend the holidays with them?”
I take a sip of water and smile at her before placing my hand gently on her arm.
“First,” I say, “All that matters are your girls, right? Everything is much simpler if you just keep that in mind. And second, you gotta come up with a plan…”
by Laura Cathcart Robbins