Tug-Of-War At Christmastime

Dear Mamas,

My in-laws (who I like) want to have my 2 kids to their house for Christmas Day. I am divorced and my ex-husband is going to be there with many of his family members, including my kids’ cousins. It’s not in our agreement to do this and I am mad that he is asking this (even though the invite came from my in-laws). I wanted to spend the day with them myself although to be honest I hadn’t really planned much. If I let them go will my husband think he can take advantage of me in the future? He’s not a bad guy at all, we just are different people.

Thanks and i know this is really late. Hope you can answer fast.


Dear Sandi,

This is a tough one if you just look at what’s going on between you and your ex. It sounds like you suspect he got his parents to call for him so you would be more inclined to say yes. But maybe they just really wanted to spend some time with their grandchildren and decided to throw caution to the wind and see what you would say. Grandparents are often the silent victims when couples divorce because they lose access to their grandkids and are often devastated by this loss. Kids may also take the loss of time and contact with their grandparents hard.

In a situation like this, the main ones to consider are your children. What do you think they would want to do if given the chance and didn’t feel pressured to take sides? They may really want to see their grandparents/Dad/aunts/uncles/cousins and celebrate Christmas with them. Unfortunately, they may feel like they are betraying you if they say so. It’s a difficult place to be and they need to know you’re on board before they can feel comfortable about going.

If, after considering things from their perspective, you feel like it might be a nice thing for them to do, swallow your pride, talk to your ex and get his thoughts on the situation. If he agrees that it would be fun for them, ask them if they would like to go. Just make sure you don’t cue them in any way to feel sorry for you and stay home out of a sense of loyalty or concern for you.

Or, on the other hand, you could have your in-laws call them and extend the invitation themselves. This is, of course, assuming that it’s okay with you. If it is, maybe you can plan a fun way to celebrate Christmas Eve with them so they get special holiday time with all of you. The main thing is to make sure that they don’t get put in the middle of a tug-of-war between you and your ex.

Holidays pose one of the most difficult challenges for divorced families with kids. It’s so important to remember that they didn’t have any control over whether you and their father stayed together and, as a result, their feelings should take precedence here. That’s not to say that yours aren’t important. They are but you have choices and power in the situation and they don’t. They need you to remember how important family holidays are when you’re a kid.

The key, I think, is flexibility because even though you may have an agreement that works well on paper, things change and you have to adapt. Just remember that if the situation were reversed, you could be the one to miss out on sharing a special family party or event with your kids simply because it wasn’t in the agreement. Not a good way to live.

Going forward, I would encourage you to do some counseling with your ex. Make it your goal to clear out any residual marital or custody issues so they don’t interfere with your kid’s ability to enjoy both families and all the holidays to come, guilt-free.

I hope you can work things out and experience some the joy and peace that the season brings.


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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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