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Co-Parenting Hannukah-Style at Christmas: A Mom’s Eye View

My first Hanukkah as a single mom was lucky. My play A Body of Water was in rehearsal for its New York debut and I was traveling back and forth from Minnesota. I celebrated some nights with my son Josh at home in St. Paul and traveled to New York for others while Josh stayed with his dad. So instead of brooding about being a single mother on nights I would have been alone, I was preoccupied by rehearsals. Easy-peasy. For a while.

But other holidays came and went, bringing challenges, loneliness and sometimes tears. I remembered those days while watching VProud TV’s Guide to Coparenting During the Holidays. I found it through a friend while searching for resources on a column for my own blog; and what I love is they ask real people to share real experiences about real life.

Karen Cahn, who narrates the video, notes that the first year “sucks” – but then offers true-to-life tips for how it can be better. "Your goal should always be that the happiness and well being of your kids comes first, no matter what,” Cahn says. “Your kids just want their parents to get along and for there to be good vibes…so make that your goal. It's hard as hell but you can do it. Be Bruce and Demi."

Cahn also emphasizes the necessity of compromise—which really landed on my doorstep after the divorce, when I remarried. She talks about being Jewish and marrying someone who isn’t—and how important it is to introduce new traditions gradually. I wish I’d had this video years ago and been able to take her advice.

My son Josh was five when his stepdad Pete and I got married, and Pete’s family was expecting us for Christmas at their cabin in Two Harbors, MN. Josh’s father, meanwhile, was a cantor at a local synagogue in St. Paul, and became quite worried about his son celebrating Christmas. Though I didn’t say so, I worried a bit myself.

It’s not easy to hold on to your heritage if you’re not Christian on Christmas, but it’s even harder when one parent is part of the Jewish clergy. Unfortunately, during the early years of our divorce, Josh’s dad and I were not good at figuring things out together or talking with each other. Compromise came after hard-fought battles and was usually just a result of exhaustion.

In the end, I got my new husband to agree that we would celebrate Christmas at his parents’ home but not bring a tree into ours. I told Josh we were sharing Pete’s family’s holiday but that it wasn’t our holiday; and that we would share our Hanukkah with them.

That was the good part. The bad part was that Pete bought Josh eight presents for each night of Hanukkah and then Pete’s parents bought him a huge pile of Christmas presents, and I wanted Josh to be happy about his new family so I let it go on, year after year, and my son began to expect a ridiculous amount of presents at holiday time.

I’m sure you know that over-gifting can become quite the problem, because presents should not be what either holiday is about. That kind of mistake took a lot of years of walking back, by asking for fewer presents and changing some of the purchased presents to ones we made.

But other tips the video shared resonated, since I think I (mostly) managed to achieve them.

·      You are the adult: don’t make your kid make decisions about who to spend time with on the holidays

·      Don’t’ worry about the date because the time you spend together is more important than any actual day

·      Take advantage of alone time (that was really a fun one to figure out)

·      Be open to transforming traditions (like teaching your Christian cousins how to play dreidel after a Christmas dinner)

I also appreciated two things people in the video said because I lived them:

“The end of a marriage doesn’t have to be the end of a family,” says Mandy Dawson.

 “Remember: you’re divorcing yourself from your own anger and bitterness,” says Karen Cahn.

Both women are right on the money, but it’s hard to know how right until you’ve gone through your own divorce. I worked through many of my own difficult feelings by writing a novel for middle-graders called The Beat on Ruby’s Street, about a young girl whose parents end up separating in 1958. While writing it, I realized the idea of divorcing yourself from negative feelings isn’t one that can happen overnight. But it can happen.

In the end I think the key to getting on with life, holidays, and co-parenting is, as the video points out, compromise. But it’s also about being willing to own your feelings and get past them—and about sharing them with other parents, which is why I wish V-Proud had been around for me when my son was little.  On the other hand, I’m glad it’s here now—for us all.

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How to cite this page

Zark, Jenna. "Co-Parenting Hannukah-Style at Christmas: A Mom’s Eye View." 10 December 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 16, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/co-parenting-hannukah-style-at-christmas-mom-s-eye-view>.

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