A House Divided

Michaela Ely, Web Editor

My parents got a divorce when I was 4-years-old. 

I’m not saying this for pity or sympathy; it’s honestly better that it turned out this way. People always ask me what I’m doing for the holidays or if I’m free on the weekends. And depending on which parent I’m with, the answer varies extremely.

My dad has primary custody of me so I’m with him during the week and every other weekend. But when the holidays roll around, things get a bit more chaotic.

The parenting plan, also known as that irritating schedule the courts came up with that makes about zero sense, tries to split holidays relatively even. Unfortunately for their brilliant plan, I almost never remember who gets what holiday.

For example, this year my dad gets Thanksgiving and the second half of winter break. The courts also never defined how to split time during winter break since it was created before my sister and I were in school. There have been numerous fights over who gets what time or whether one parent can switch a weekend and who knows what else.

Switching between parents also throws off a sense of continuity, which as a person with anxiety, doesn’t go over well.  It can really impact the mood around the holidays. My parents are also both remarried so I’m much more likely to travel for holidays now. Hooray for travel anxiety!

This year, holiday traditions were broken. When I’m with my dad for Thanksgiving, we always celebrated it with my grandparents. Most people I know don’t have as close of a relationship as I do with my grandparents. They took care of me during the divorce and played a major role in raising me to be the person I am now. I am a lot like my grandma when it comes to personality, we’re both stubborn, sarcastic and we stand up for what we believe. 

We’re breaking the tradition this year to go up and visit my stepmom’s family. Don’t get me wrong, I love them just as much as my biological family but changing traditions like this just doesn’t sit right.

Now for Christmas with my mom, there never used to be much stability until my mom met my stepdad. Ever since they met, we’ve gone to Hood River, OR every year to visit his parents. We either take the train or drive for about four hours to get there. Because it switches every year, we also will go down for the second half of winter break if that’s when we’re at our mom’s.

Christmas with my dad has never changed. My aunt will fly up from Florida and stay with us and my sister and I will spend half of our time with our grandparents. On Christmas Eve we stay at our dad’s and watch Christmas movies. Usually, if I get my way we watch The Polar Express. I swear, my family is so tired of that movie by now.

Now how does this holiday schedule impact me? If I want to make plans with my friends, I always have to make sure I do it on my dad’s time, otherwise plans can get messed up or cancelled. If I have homework to work on, I have to make sure I don’t leave my homework at my mom’s because I won’t have access to it unless she has time to get it to me. And because she’s a teacher, it’s likely I won’t have it until it’s too late. 

Outside of the holidays, things aren’t any less crazy. Whenever I’m with my mom, there’s always a solid plan for what we are doing that weekend so unless someone wants to fight with her about it, there aren’t any changes made to those plans. That usually means that whatever time I spend hanging out with friends is usually on my dad’s weekend or after school so there isn’t a fight over it.

This schedule has made it difficult to maintain relationships with people I care about that also go to different schools. It has caused some of those relationships to end because of how busy people would get and the limited time that I was available. However, a couple of those relationships have been able to be built back up.

Growing up I always knew that the way my family functioned wasn’t normal by any standard. Few people have formed the same connection with their grandparents, few people understand the relationship I have with my parents. But regardless of how chaotic it may be, it’s what I have and that’s enough.

Over time, I’ve learned how to manage the chaos and not let it affect other parts of my life. I work around the things I can’t change and move on from them. It’s made me significantly more self-aware of my own faults so that I can work through them and overcome them. I’ve become a very organized person that always has to have a plan and stick to it. 

In reality, the hardest lesson to learn from this experience was to appreciate what I have, regardless of the circumstances. Especially around the holidays, it is important to be thankful for what you have rather than wishing for something that you don’t. Don’t dwell on the things that could have happened but try to appreciate what you do have and realize the things that you can or can’t change.

Dealing with that disorganization at such a young age may have had adverse effects but I feel that the progress I’ve made as a person outweigh those adverse effects.