Q. My ex-wife recently has recently moved to a town a thousand miles away and would like to have Christmas dinner at her new home. The kids, all adults with families of their own, have always spent Christmas Eve with her and Christmas Day with me. This year, because of the distance, she is proposing we all spend the holidays with her. We all get along, but this is quite a bit different than what we have done. I would consider going, except I have a new partner who no one has met and has no family. I don’t want to leave her alone on Christmas. Is it appropriate to bring my new partner to a family holiday? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I normally say holidays are not the time to introduce new partners. There are too many family traditions and left-over emotions that might complicate things. However, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are also symbolic of inclusion, so to leave someone alone doesn’t really jive with the meaning of the holidays.
It sounds like you and your ex have had a successful holiday parenting plan over the years, but her move now complicates things. Traveling means rearranging everything, possibly spending the night, and families often balk at change, particularly around holidays. You probably saw that when you first divorced and had to initiate new holiday traditions because you were no longer together.
There are other things to take into consideration—it’s not uncommon for exes to long a “just-like-it-used-to-be” holiday. I had a client tell me that Hallmark movies make her nostalgic for her former married life and she had to stop watching them because her kids got angry when she proposed they all spend the holidays together. They had accepted the divorce years ago, had developed new traditions, and had no interest of revisiting the way it used to be. If you are truly entertaining the possibility of spending the holidays together, check with your kids first. Introducing a new partner too soon—and on a holiday—could feel like an invasion of privacy and that might sabotage any future interaction your kids have with your new partner. You’ll get a lot of, “Oh, it’s her again.” Not productive. Not good ex-etiquette.
So, if you’re actually considering spending the holidays at your ex’s new home, just remember, timing is everything. If you know the introduction will upset things this year, don’t bring her. Talk about the future and reassure her that next year you’ll celebrate the holiday as a couple. Then over the next year slowly include her in family get-togethers. As time goes on, inviting her will seem like the natural order of things.
Finally, when all is said and done, it’s important to understand that Christmas is just one day of 365 other days. Although the holidays can be rough alone, your new partner is an adult and since she has no family, has probably faced this problem before. This may be more about your own guilt rather than her inability to be by herself. Check with the kids—they are adults, too–and remember be honest and straight forward when talking to them and your ex (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #8.) That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.