12/23/2011 03:40 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2012

Alone For Christmas

When I was first divorced, spending Christmas with my daughters was extremely important to me. Neither my ex-husband nor I had any idea how to work out holiday time. He didn't much care about Christmas or Thanksgiving since he didn't cook.

But once he started dating, that changed. He would tell the kids they were going to be with him without asking me which holiday I preferred. I was more timid than I am now, but we learn as we go. After a couple of years accepting this lack of consideration, I called him to suggest that we alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, and switch who had the kids for each of those holidays yearly. Much to my surprise, he agreed. He wasn't an ogre and could even be reasonable!

That arrangement only lasted a few years. By that time he had become quite wealthy. The woman he eventually married liked going to Hawaii or Mexico over the holidays, so the first year they went away he invited the children along. I have no idea if it was "his" year for Christmas, but I don't think so. Of course they were excited and wanted to go. I didn't feel as if I had a choice because they were so thrilled. I made myself a turkey breast with all the trimmings and cried my way through my Christmas dinner.

You would think I would have told him as soon as they returned not to invite them to go away on an important holiday without asking me first, but it took a few years for me to make that request. I hated depriving them, so I deprived myself. Friends read me the riot act, and my ex and I again began to alternate holidays again. As they reached high school, and then college age, he and his wife again began to plan vacations for the Christmas holidays for their growing family. Of course they invited the girls. By then, I too, was married, so it didn't matter as much to me. They were away from home anyway, beginning to live their own lives. To give him credit, he would call me to ask if it was OK if they all went away for Christmas. My daughters usually had Thanksgiving with me, so it was.

Now he and his wife and their children live in Los Angeles and my daughters both live in Oregon. They have been going on weeklong holidays with their other family for years. I have a partner, but he often works on Christmas day. I no longer cry when I eat alone. I get to plan the meal I want, eat when I want, drink a split of my favorite champagne, and listen to soppy Christmas carols with no complaints from anyone else. I actually enjoy the quiet time to myself.

I do find myself wondering if these feelings will again change now that I have grandchildren. My older daughter told me that her husband said he didn't want to go on so many family trips because he has limited time off and wants to vacation with their friends some of the time. My younger daughter has to alternate with her husband's family in Chicago, and with the two sides of her own. She now asks me about my plans, considering my needs too. So it doesn't look like I will have to say anything to anyone. I am grateful nonetheless than I have learned to set my boundaries over the years and to express those needs. Learning to take care of myself took time, but has certainly been worth the effort. Realizing my daughters enjoy meeting those needs is wondrous indeed. I find we not only live and learn, we pass on that learning to those we love who come behind.

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