When Doc announced he didn’t want to be married to me anymore, more than six months ago (has it really been that long? Sometimes the wound feels as fresh and painful as if it just happened yesterday) , I wasn’t the only one devastated. A year and a half earlier, Doc had moved his parents from Florida to the desert Southwest to be near us, as there had been a couple of health scares and we were too far away to be helpful. My mother-in-law is a woman who is set in her ways – she likes things to stay the same and thrives on routine, so selling their home of over 50 years and making the move was traumatic. But at the same time, she felt relief that she wouldn’t be alone if something happened to her husband and she was happy to be closer to us and her grandchildren.
When Doc broke the news to them about the break-up both of my in-laws were distraught, but my mother-in-law especially. When I visited her that night, she sobbed along with me and lamented, “We moved here to be with our family – and now there is not a family anymore! Am I going to have to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at three different houses?” She was so distressed that I felt the need to comfort her, and I promised her that Doc would be at the house during the holidays. The children and my grand-daughter would be visiting at Christmas, so of course he would be there. I assured her that we would all have holiday meals together and that Doc could stay over while the kids were there. It would be fine – we would stay a family.
I broke my promise.
You see, when I made that vow, I still believed that Doc would “come to his senses” and realize his mistake. That he would decide that going to therapy and working on his own issues was certainly preferable to leaving me and his family. I was in denial about the destruction of our 26-year-marriage.
But then, in August, my daughter and grand-daughter came for a week-long visit. Doc didn’t stay over, but he came to the house every morning and stayed until my grand-daughter went to bed each night. He made a point not to interact with me any more than necessary, usually sitting at the table and working on his laptop, but he did join us as we went on excursions to the children’s museum or zoo – again, ignoring me for the most part. My feelings were hurt by the snubs, but I told myself that it was worth it – surely my children were appreciating his presence – and maybe if he was around family again, he would see what he was missing.
Later, after the visit was over, I told my therapist about it and was talking about upcoming holiday plans – but she stopped me. She asked how the children felt about their father being in the house again and I assured her that they were fine with it. She inquired if I had actually asked them how they felt about it and if they wanted him around for the holidays. I hadn’t – I hadn’t even thought about it, so great was my desire to keep things as “normal” as possible. When I went home that night, I asked my two youngest about it and they both said that they had felt awkward and uncomfortable around Doc. I called my daughter and she said that, while she was happy that my grand-daughter was able to spend time with him, she felt tension the entire time – and she felt it was her fault that Doc and I were in a situation where we were forced to interact with each other. I then called my other daughter and asked her how she would feel if Doc was at the house every day when she visited at Christmas. She responded that she would find it difficult — she was angry with him for the pain he had caused me.
It was an epiphany for me – and it made me take a cold, hard, objective look at the situation. Why did I want to spend the holidays with a man who didn’t love me, who mostly ignored me, who obviously had no desire to be with me? Why was I still stuck in the role of being the facilitator in the relationship between my children and my husband? Even in the depths of my despair, while I was sobbing and rocking myself, trying not to let the emotional pain drive me mad, I still begged the kids not to be angry with their father. I defended him, not wanting their relationship to be any rockier than it had been while we were together. But why? They were all basically adults – able to feel, observe, and make their own decisions. And who was I to invalidate how they felt about this man and force them into situations that made them uncomfortable?
As Thanksgiving grew closer, I obsessed about the situation. How could I tell my in-laws that I did not want to pretend at being a family with a man who did not love me? Would they be even more heartbroken? Would Doc blame me again for creating a rift between him and his children? What would happen if he wanted the kids to spend the day with him and they didn’t want to? Would he be angry with me? Would he withdraw his financial support? I have been trying so hard to be compassionate and friendly when I interact with Doc – I didn’t want him to think I was just being bitchy and vindictive!
A blogging friend gave me some great, sensible advice: “Instead of stressing over it, just let your in-laws know you won’t be spending Thanksgiving Day with them. If your ex wants to spend time with your kids, he can ask them – and they can accept or decline – as they see fit. Take yourself out of the situation and the emotional turmoil that goes along with it.” It seemed so simple – but also so hard.
Still, that evening, I visited my in-laws after work. I gently told them that I would not be available on Thanksgiving, but that the kids and I would like the two of them to join us for an early Thanksgiving dinner the weekend before. That way, they would have Thanksgiving Day free to spend time with their son. There were no tears, no guilt trips, no lamenting. They simply responded that they would love to come for dinner – and could they bring a pie? I may be a bit cowardly for not even broaching the subject of Thanksgiving with Doc – but, then again, he never brought up the subject with me or his kids – so perhaps it is just not that important to him.
We had our “Fakesgiving” last weekend. I cooked a huge turkey with all the trimmings (because I love leftovers) and we had an enjoyable time with my in-laws – visiting, eating, and laughing. It was a lovely early holiday! On actual Thanksgiving Day, the kids and I are going to see a movie and maybe grab some burgers for lunch – and then I have plans with some dear friends who invited me for a lovely dinner.
One major holiday down – one more to go. I can do this.