I got blamed for “ruining Christmas”

A family sitting at a table for Christmas lunch

This article is sponsored by Care.com, who believes that all parents need backup. 

Sharing custody of the kids? Have a read. This is a cautionary tale about your kids and the holidays, or any day you consider important. TLDR: Try to listen when your child wants to spend time somewhere else.

Let me explain.

I was 16 years old. I was living with my father, stepmother, and two step-siblings. It was not a happy time for any of us. Our recently blended family did not get along. There were a lot of fights and hurt feelings.

Christmas rolled around and my mom was in town. Traditionally, Christmas Eve belonged to my mom, and Christmas Day was my father’s. But this year, my mom and I planned to ask my father if I could spend Christmas Day with my mother’s side of the family.

Scene: My house, the kitchen. Christmas Eve evening. Mom proceeds to make the request.

It does not go well.

My father erupts into loud yelling, berating my mom, and waking up everyone in the house late on Christmas Eve.

The best part? My step-family blamed me for “ruining Christmas.”

Was he upset I didn’t want to spend Christmas with him? I think so. And maybe at 16, I was being selfish. But his response to my request negatively affected our relationship. This incident was a factor in my decision to move out of my father’s house later that summer to go live with my mom.

Look, unexpected events come up. Your ex might ask for a day that’s usually yours. They might even make a suggestion you find incomprehensible, or so offensive you want to scream.

But don’t. In my father’s case, a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed. He could have gotten his way without turning to rage and aggression.

We’ve never talked about it since but I know there are events from those days that he regrets.

As the holiday season closes out, it’s a good time for all of us to think about our priorities. Are we making decisions based on what makes people happy, or what makes us look happy? For blended families especially, there’s an immense pressure to sell the idea that all is peaceful and joyous. Sometimes they’re just not.

So don’t risk your relationship with your kids over a holiday, or any particular day. Let them have some say in where they spend their time. Allow them to be heard before you make your decision. And for the love of everything you hold dear, use your words.

Talk to your kid. Talk about your feelings with them. I know this can be especially tough for you dads out there, because boys in our culture aren’t usually raised to share their feelings. But gather your courage and do the hard thing. You owe it to your kid, and to yourself.

I’m not saying you need to agree to any request your kid or your ex makes but try to hear them out. Remember that it’s not your kid’s responsibility to make the holiday match the image you sent out on a greeting card. Try to take the pressure off before anger gets the best of you.

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Erica Flynn is a copywriter and child of divorced parents. When she’s not writing, she can be found knitting or playing the piano. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her partner and their five cats.