Does Christmas ever go to plan in your house? Is it how you expect it to be? Or are you one of these laid-back people who ‘goes with the flow’?
I am a teacher so everything has to be planned within a inch of its life. My life is regulated by bells and meetings and calendars and timetables. Of course, there has to be flexibility – we are dealing with children after all – but it is still controlled and calculated and measured.
I attempted to plan Christmas as my inner control-freak needed me to. I needed to be prepared and ready. I needed to know exactly what I was doing and when. Part of that included knowing when my children were seeing their dad.
My husband is not a planner. At all. Perhaps that it unfair- his plans are spontaneous and he doesn’t waver from them as he has just made them so that is what is happening. This contrasts completely with my need to plan-in-advance addiction.
I was fairly happy with what we had agreed for Christmas as there had been some compromise on both sides. I was a little frustrated with him coming to watch the children open their presents, mainly because he hadn’t bought (or paid for) any of them. My bitter inner voice felt that he was getting some of the credit and half of the enjoyment for doing nothing. But he isn’t an ungenerous man. Although I usually buy the majority he would also buy a few gifts to help and would enjoy doing so. Not this year and I figure that there must be a good reason for that. So, that is what he asked for and it was what the children wanted so I gave in. In return, I got the afternoon to tidy and prepare the house, the dinner and myself before the children were to return to eat Christmas dinner with me. Of course I didn’t want to be apart from them but my consolation was that they would come home to a calm and happy mother, a beautifully set table and a perfectly cooked dinner. I could keep myself busy for that.
But the best laid plans….. He arrived and watched them open their presents and didn’t say a word. I commented on his lack of interaction: he said he was just ‘enjoying watching them’. To me it was awkward. I don’t know if it was guilt – I certainly hadn’t started an argument about him not contributing to the gifts but he was probably well aware that I wasn’t happy about it.
Whilst I made pancakes I suggested he helped our youngest with the train set. Everything seemed a little better then. Until my family started to arrive to see our father and us. The atmosphere returned. I was really concious that our children’s excitment to see my family was eating into his time with his and apologised whilst trying to hurry them up into getting ready. He said it was fine, and meant it I think, but just sat there again. Eventually the children were ready and they left. The majority of the morning had felt strained and as it was now lunchtime, part of his time had been taken. I had reassured him that we were only eating at five so to just bring them back for then.
So, imagine my surprise when they returned at 3pm. He said they see getting bored and wanted to come home. He was emotional when he left. I just don’t understand! Surely he could have entertained them? Played board games or cards, gone for a Christmas walk, watched a Christmas film or played with the toys that his parents had just given them? I felt guilty again that some of his time with them had been taken by my family but then when would they have seen them? It is just so hard!
My frustration that the house and dinner were not ready on their return was quickly replaced by the pleasure of having my daughter help with the preparations. We had a lovely dinner and an evening of board games with my sister. I couldn’t help but think of my other half (when do I start calling him my ex- when we are divorced?) and how the day must not have gone how he had envisaged either. I ended up inviting him to see the children the next day too even though that had not been the plans either.
I must state at this point that a lot of the advice I have read states that specific visiting days/times are best for the children. My experience so far is that this is really difficult, particularly as he is currently still staying with his parents. Most of the time that he has with them still seems to be here which makes me feel uncomfortable and anxious and completely in the way (in my own home). There seems to be no set times despite my regular encouragement of them. I am trying to be fair – I don’t believe in punishing him through the children. Our failed marriage has nothing to do with his relationship with them. I want my children to see their dad regularly if that is what they want. But my need for structure and routine is completely at odds with him.
New Year is threatening to turn out in the same way. I have been asking him for some time now – “what are your plans?” Or “what would you like to do with the children at New Year?”. It is particularly complicated due to our middle child’s birthday being on New Year’s Eve. He keeps telling me that he is thinking about it. I don’t believe that he is being purposefully awkward – I know him well enough to believe that he truly doesn’t know yet. In the meantime, the hours and days pass with no plans being made and my stomach churning at my lack of control.
Is this how hard it is going to be? How am I ever going to reestablish my life as a single mother if I am still beholden to his wants? How do I keep it amicable and fair if I don’t? I feel the dawn of the new year and its promise of a kick start to my new life and yet I feel like I am still tethered to the old.
Any advice gratefully received.