The Ghost of Christmases Past
“Remember last Christmas, when Daddy…?”
When Daddy was still here. When Daddy was still alive or when Daddy was still living with you, whichever the case may be. When Daddy took the kids sledding, or when Daddy reached up to place the tree-topper without needing a stepladder, or when Daddy fought all day to assemble the presents the kids had gotten that admitted “Some assembly required.” Some?!
Is that the kind of reminiscing that’s going on in your house?
Or maybe it wasn’t just last year that Daddy did whatever you’re remembering over Christmas. Maybe he’s been gone—divorced or dead—two years or more already.
The question here is: Is that kind of reminiscing a healthy thing to do? And the answer is, Yes and No.
No if the kids are having a happy holiday season and you drag them down by reminiscing and introducing a sad subject.
Yes if the kids bring it up themselves…and don’t dwell endlessly on it.
No if Dad is divorced from you, and the subject is raised in bitterness.
Yes if Dad is dead rather than divorced.
Life goes on…but the past isn’t always the past
It’s important to live for today and for tomorrow, but we can’t help reminiscing about yesterday. It just isn’t healthy to live in the past—remembering fondly is one thing; being dragged down by memories is something else. If your kids’ father is alive but no longer living with them and you, honor and respect their sadness but don’t encourage their dwelling endlessly on the past. It’s not going to change anything, even though they may wish for a reconciliation and his return to the household. Refocus their thoughts on the fun you’re going to have this year.
If their father is deceased, totally gone from their lives, that’s a fact they have to accept, unlike the case of a divorce, where hope for a return may spring eternal despite your insistence that it’s not going to happen. In the case of a death, some dwelling on the past is less damaging as it’s not going to lead to their being filled with false hopes for a return.
The past lives on in our memories and helps form who we are. You do not want to erase your children’s good memories of their dad, even if he was a lying, cheating, no-good husband. Those good memories are an important part of their childhood. No matter what bitterness you may harbor toward your ex, he was still their father. On the other hand, you also want to encourage them to look ahead.
One way to accomplish this—regardless of whether their father is gone by virtue of death or divorce—is by instituting new traditions. Don’t try to start 10 new traditions in one year. That’s overload. One or two or three are workable numbers. You can always add another new tradition next year, if you want. These can be big traditions or small and can center around the actual day of Christmas itself or the holiday season in general.
If your imagination fails you and you can’t think of a Christmas season tradition to institute, perhaps you could borrow a tradition from my book Family Traditions, Customs, and Celebrations. Though the original hardbound edition is out of print, it has been re-released as an e-book and is available on the web from Secret Cravings Publishing or from Amazon.com.
Give your children something to enjoy now and remember fondly in the future concerning the holiday season, something that doesn’t involve their father.
Missing your ex
The truth is, especially if you were not the one who asked for the divorce but even if the divorce was your idea, you may be looking back fondly too. That’s normal. It does not mean you made a mistake by divorcing him, or you are weak-willed, or anything like that. Surely the marriage was not all bad. There must have been some good times too. And it is natural to remember them fondly. If he had been a totally unremitting S.O.B. you never would have married him in the first place.
The point, though, is not to wallow in a tear-fest and not to encourage your kids to do so either. We can’t forget the past, nor do we want to, but we don’t want to dwell on it interminably either. Move on. Don’t have a sad holiday season. Be sure to make it a truly Merry Christmas.
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