Springtime brings a lot of family holidays and celebrations with the beautiful blooms and warm weather. For straight spouses, these can be occasions of joy, but they can also be occasions for conflict. Even when we have moved on for a number of years, the joy of a wedding, a graduation, or the birth of a new grandchild can also come with a mixed feeling of dread at having to once again deal with our ex-spouse.
Unresolved issues often are at the heart of our anxiety at this events. Some awkward scenarios might include the following:
- Is the closet door open all the way? Who in the family or group of friends knows your spouse is LGBT? If we are out of the closet, we may not know what they have told their family and friends. Or, we may be sworn to secrecy only to find out that everyone else has known for a long time and accepts our spouse’s new life.
- Party Time! The in-laws that you were previously close to are hosting a big party for your child’s graduation, engagement, baby shower. And they have to invite you. You can come. Sure. You wonder if you should go, and probably be uncomfortable, or not go, and be perceived as being difficult.
- Maybe you are hosting the party. Your child makes the list and your ex in-laws are at the top of that list. So you invite them, but aren’t really sure about how they will receive the communication. You’re also not sure if the messages they pass to you through your son or daughter are actual responses.
- Or you WERE going to host a party, and only then did you find out that your ex-spouse or in-laws were planning a big bash which your son or daughter had no idea you hadn’t been invited to.
- Or maybe there’s a party, and everyone knows except you. Your child wonders why you aren’t coming.
- Other people’s unresolved issues. You and your ex are getting along pretty well now. But your parents, cousins, siblings have just never gotten over what your ex did to you. They make it clear that they WILL NOT speak to him/her. Or they are uncomfortable with the reality that your ex will bring their new partner/LGBT spouse.
There are dozens of scenarios that make family celebrations involving our adult or near adult children tough, even years after our separation or divorce. How do you approach these occasions, and make them memorable for the right reasons?
First, tune out the unimportant people and focus on the reason for the event itself. Your son or daughter is getting married, graduating from high school or college, having a baby, starting a new job. If they want you to be a part of the celebration, it has meaning for you. It means something to them that you will be there. You might turn down an invite to a party, but you should never exclude yourself from their wedding, graduation, ceremonies honoring them, or a major religious event such as a christening, a bris, or a naming ceremony for a grandchild.
Sometimes we think we just can’t go if our ex is there. But we must, if our children want us there.
So many of us have dealt with situations in the past that were beyond our control or our anticipation. Its normal to worry that something will go wrong. If you have experienced abuse or gaslighting in the past, it’s perfectly normal to wonder if your ex will attempt it publicly.
It’s important to recognize that the event is not about you – it’s about your child. It’s about your teen graduating high school, your son or daughter getting married and starting a new life, and the celebration of their happiness. If you can work things out with your spouse, great. If not, you still can go and make the day one of happiness for yourself and your family.
Some straight spouses who are still pretty emotional about contact with the ex at family celebrations have found that it is helpful to have a plan for avoiding drama. Find a private area, such as a rest room, to escape to if necessary. It helps to know who your friends are, and stay close to them if you don’t bring a date or have not remarried. If your ex has a problem with how your participation in an event, refer it to your adult son or daughter. For a teenager you may want to enlist the advice of a school counselor or teacher if possible. They can give you an idea of what is expected – and what is not. Remember, the day is about your child, not about you, and not about your ex either.
Stay sober. You cannot control yourself or the events around you if you have too much to drink. After all, you want a wedding or family celebration to be remembered as a wedding – not as the time you got plastered.
Give yourself permission to be emotional. Weddings are always emotional events for parents. Graduations are times that we remember the whole journey of raising a child, and birthday parties often take parents back to the day the child was born. Have some sense of how you will show your emotions. Its ok to show them. OK, don’t break down and collapse and turn on the flood of tears. But show your emotions. It really is ok.
Have an exit plan. Know when you plan to leave (for example, after the bride and groom leave, or when your friends start to leave.) While you are there, carry on with your head high. Look your best, and feel good.
Focus on the reason for the celebration – your child – and save the rest for later. It’s a day in your life, and then it is over. But the memory for your son or daughter and other family members will last.