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This year my children were supposed to spend Christmas with their father. They didn't. They took the devastating news like champs. My children have become rather stoic about so many things and the circumstances surrounding not getting to be with their dad during his visitation is one of them.
As I listened to the speaker call with their dad from the doorway, trying to not be intrusive, and yet wanting them to know I was near, I felt well-springs of emotions. All kinds of emotions. Hurt for them, but happiness that I would get to be with them. Aggravation over the circumstances which prevented their visit with him, but elation that I'd get to see the delight in their eyes when they opened gifts from me and my parents and various other relatives on Christmas morning rather than two weeks later or two weeks before Christmas.
I also felt a tremendous load of responsibility. Responsibility to make up for their missed opportunity in not getting to spend time with their dad. I struggled with just how much time and energy do I put out trying to make their visitation with their father a reality, since he wasn't doing the same himself? Is that something I must do?
My immediate reaction was to plan the heck out of the last couple of weeks of November and the entire month of December. We'd do tons of stuff that we wouldn't normally do. They'd be so busy that they would forget their heartbreak.
And then I remembered
I'm an extreme introvert. So climbing out of my comfort zone, even for those I love, is stressful for me. Even when I WANT to step outside my comfort zone. My body no longer reacts normally to stress of any kind, even the good, exciting kinds of things become stressful in negative ways. But I determined to push past obstacles, plan and be present for my children.
I had to be careful not to set a precedent that I couldn't duplicate in the future. Money is always an issue for single parents. For married parents too, of course, but especially single parents. While I chose to spend a bit of extra money on activities we might not normally participate in (all day laser tag anyone?), I don't know if in the future I'd be able to spend the money. Financial situations can change at a moment's notice. I always have to be mindful of that. I didn't want to create unrealistic expectations in my children and then have them disappointed in me for not duplicating that in the future.
I don't want to short change my children's grieving process. There is true, honest to goodness grief that my kids stare down when they don't get their holiday with their dad. While I want to cushion the blow best I can, it would be irresponsible to completely take away the opportunity for them to develop healthy coping mechanisms for themselves. My job is not to shield them from disappointments and challenges, rather to guide them to healthy ways to deal.
It's not my responsibility to make up for any real or imagined lack on their father's part. Perhaps one day, I will change my mind: for now, in the tenuous relationship of co-parenting, I don't feel I should bend over backward to make visitations with their father a reality when he does not. So, for now, I am sticking to our divorce decree (that we both agreed upon) pretty much to the letter. Had circumstances been beyond his control, this would be an entirely different post.
Finding the Joy
So, what did I do, you may ask, dear reader. I planned several big outings and several more smaller activities as I knew I could handle them. I made sure they were surrounded by friends and family often. That we remained faithful to our routines, especially going to church to hear The Word. I conferred with a trusted friend so often that she probably got tired of me. I called my parents. A lot.