And … once more to the chopping block we go. Today’s post topic deals with celebration of special occasions—birthdays, Christmases, mother’s days and father’s days—and the presence or involvement of a parent’s significant other in connection with same. Given the overwhelming (and overwhelmingly emotional) reader commentary on prior posts, I feel a bit like Tara and I are beating a dead horse here. Nevertheless, here is her take on the girlfriend’s perspective; my post on the mom’s perspective can be found over on Relative Evolutions.
For Week 3 of our project, Meredith and I have agreed to address the topic of special events: birthdays, holidays, religious celebrations, etc. Before I get too far into what I think, I’d like to share a story…
A few years ago, Boyfriend’s ex had plans during one of Drakes baseball games. She asked Boyfriend to drive Drake to the game and she left Josh home with a sitter. After the game (which I too attended), we took Drake home and found his brother frolicking in the front yard with the babysitter and some neighborhood kids.
Boyfriend got out of the car to chat with an old neighbor and encouraged me to exit the vehicle as well. Feeling out of place, I stood on the sidewalk and made friends with the dogs that were on site. A few moments later, Josh (age 5 at the time) approached and took my hand.
“Come see my bedroom,” he said eagerly. (I should note that Josh has always been somewhat ignorant to his parents’ conflict. He simply doesn’t care.)
From ten feet away, I felt Drake bristle with anxiety. He knew that his mother would not approve of my setting foot inside her home. My own body tensed as I searched for something to say.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I told him. “Your mom isn’t home and I don’t think she would want any strangers in the house.”
Josh’s blue eyes were wide with hope and anticipation. “No, it’s OK,” he pleaded while pulling my arm. “She wants you to see my room. I know she does!”
My upper half lurched forward with his tug but I kept my feet planted on the sidewalk. “Not today. Maybe sometime when your mom is home, OK? You need to ask her first.”
Josh dropped my hand and looked down, appearing deflated by my rejection. He didn’t (and couldn’t. and shouldn’t.) understand all the reasons why. To him, it was simple: he wanted to share something with me and I refused. I felt like such a bitch.
…Which brings me back to this week’s topic. I think this is an area where the kids’ preference should be given significant weight, especially if the celebration is scheduled to happen in a public place.
Speaking for myself, if a birthday boy requested my presence at his bowling party, I’d be comfortable to rent a lane nearby and venture into the party space only to offer some congratulatory words and a gift. In the meantime, I’d be there, but I wouldn’t be assaulting anyone with my presence. If the birthday boy wanted me to watch him open his gifts, I’d oblige… awkwardly. And I hope Mom would keep the peace for the sake of her child.
Within the home, I understand there may be some more stringent boundaries. And I respect that. Completely. I would not cross Mom’s threshold against her will even if my presence was requested by a child. I think in that case, I might “have other plans”. If the event was to take place at my house, I would welcome Mom to attend. I’m relatively certain the situation, though uncomfortable, would not be life-threatening. At least, I hope not.
Boyfriend and I have not dealt with such scenarios. So far, he and his ex have been content to let the occasions fall where they may in the schedule. In most cases, the boys are with Mom for their birthdays and holidays so we adapt accordingly and celebrate in our own fashion during the boys’ time with us. I prefer the opportunity to do our own thing. It extends the fun for the kids and opens their minds to alternate possibilities. At the same time, it frees us from participating in something which doesn’t agree with our own family culture. It’s important, I think, to form new traditions in the wake of divorce.
A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned not “assaulting anyone with my presence”. This is important and it goes both ways. If exes and new partners are sharing a space, there’s no need to flaunt (and flaunting, IMHO, has more to do with attitude than action) one’s particular status. The kids know who you are and what you mean to them. Be open-minded and respectful. Let the kids enjoy themselves and remember that “this too shall pass.”