Battle of the Exes: There's Never a Clear Winner When It Comes to the Holidays

It may be the season to be jolly, but it's also the season for some serious divorced-parent guilt and envy. I remember the days — hey, it's my first Christmas almost divorced — when the three of us gathered around the tree, opening gifts while the video camera taped our most cherished family moments. Most of them I spent looking like a tired and disheveled mommy, but they were happy moments despite the mom sleep fog indeed. This year, it won't be the three of us bounding down the stairs to see what Santa has left us. Instead, it will just be my daughter and me until her father arrives to get her Christmas morning. Somehow, that doesn't match the vision I have for Christmas — a family torn in two — but it's the vision I have. It's my life. But have you ever seen any movies or television specials portraying the divorced household at the holidays? Nope. The commercial season is all about the nuclear, loved, and absolutely peaceful family. In other words, a family that doesn't often exist for many of us.

When it comes to being a divorced parent, we all know that the goal is to get along with the other parent as much as possible and to try to coparent effectively and keep the peace, especially at the holidays. But if you're divorced, you already know that that can be a tall order even in the most amicable of situations — try asking for a lifetime of ultimate peace with not one disagreement with your ex from Santa and see if it comes under that tree. I will admit that while I go above and beyond to keep things good with my ex, there are times when I can't help but be envious of him. Mostly I envy when he has my daughter and I don't. Then there's morning envy: he gets to take her to school almost every day because he lives close to his job (minus one where I take her to before care and breakfast) even on my days with her. We have a 60/40 split (I am the 60 and he the 40), so there's plenty of time when I'm not with her. I personally feel the worst over weekend guilt, when I hear they've gone to the zoo or to breakfast with his family. I am heartbroken on the inside still when I learn I have missed the pancake fun, and I wonder if it will ever get easier. If I will ever stop missing my daughter so much when she's not with me. If the hurt will go away.

And hey, I'm an honest gal: sometimes I envy the fact that he has two parents helping him daily with our kid, and I don't have anyone. Now with the holidays here — the most wonderful time of the year, with this particular year feeling like the loneliest time of the year — it seems as if there is more to envy and be jealous about, from celebrating to decorating! I live in our town house, and I did my best to decorate the inside (I am still missing the staircase tinsel, darnit!) and adorn the outside with lights, but it's not as festive as the big suburban house my ex lives in with his parents. My ex mother-in-law always has the house looking beautiful fast. When I came to pick up my daughter the other day from his house I thought, "Oh man, I better start decorating" because she had almost finished, and my child was already asking when I was planning on breaking out the fa-la-las mid-November. I couldn't help but feel a bit less. In the spirit of full disclosure though, let me say that I am not the handiest person ever. Trust me, you would vote me off the island. You would, however, keep me on the island if you needed someone who was good at bartering and keeping the troops moving forward. So no matter how large of a home I lived in, it would never be adorned with the best lights or come straight out of a Martha Stewart holiday scene unless I paid someone else to do it.

There's holiday envy. I know he was sad she ate turkey with me this Thanksgiving, and when she walks away from my house at 11 a.m. on Christmas, I will be the one with the green eyes. Let's not forget gift envy. My daughter is the sole grandchild on my ex's side of the family, so each year at Christmas, her grandparents spoil her with so many gifts — I don't think I have ever received that many in one lifetime. She is lucky. And while she opens that mountain of presents, I will be home alone, lucky if I see a one-minute video of the whole present-festivities shebang. Back at my house, she will have gifts, too, of course, but will it compete with the pile of grandparental love? Probably not. Plus, it will just be the two of us at my house instead of a small family gathering at his, and while the two of us mean everything, sometimes it feels like it's not enough. Sometimes it feels as if I am a few gifts and hands short of being good enough.

But I am sure my ex shares the same envious feelings of me at times. I know that when I share my weekend tales of fun with my daughter to my ex, I hear the same wistful voice that I sometimes have when he talks about his adventures with her. That he envies me at times, being in our old home. Having fun activities with just me and her.

I remember times when my ex and I were still together and he would tell me how lucky I was to be home with our daughter back when I was a mostly stay-at-home mom, and I was lucky. But I remember thinking how lucky he was to get lunch to himself and a good conversation with adults. Now as a working parent, I get lunch and conversation, but I miss out on the time with my kid. I guess the grass looks so lushly green on the other side until you've made it there and find yourself stepping in different sh*t, but sh*t nonetheless.

What's the point of all this? The point is no matter how great the holidays or things may seem at the ex's house — whether it's a bigger Christmas dinner, more gifts, or perhaps a bigger family or a new girlfriend while you're single and alone — don't think for a minute that what you have isn't enough for your child. Don't think that the grass on the other side of the park isn't full of poop, rocks, yellow spots, and holes. Wasting your energy on feeling jealous that perhaps your ex does have it better than you isn't going to get your life back on track after a divorce any quicker.

When I look back on my happiest of holidays, it's not the big gifts or the fancy dinners that I reminisce over. It's the love and time I had with people who meant something to me. I may never be able to afford to send my daughter to Disney or buy a house that's straight out of a magazine, and even if my ex can one day, it's not what my daughter will carry with her for her life in her heart. It's how much we loved her and tried our best. And at the end of the day, it's a blessing that my child has two parents who love her, two roofs over her head, and a grandmother who can out decorate and out cook me any day of the month. It just means that my daughter gets that much more love.