My two kids hatched a plot recently. They tried to persuade me to attend a big annual Christmas party for their mom’s side of the family.
Their mother and I have been divorced for almost 10 years, and it had never occurred to me to attend her family’s get-together.
After a divorce, you shouldn’t hang out with your ex-wife’s mom, brothers, sisters, and cousins, should you? I don’t dislike any of them, but I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome at their raucous Christmas party, which features tons of food and a goofy gift exchange.
“Come on, you should go,” my 11-year-old son Connor told me.
“Yea, it’ll be fun,” my 28-year-old daughter Elyse said. “Everyone would be glad to see you.”
“Let me think about it,” I said.
I called their mom. I wasn’t about to attend the party if it made her uncomfortable.
We had a relatively amicable divorce back in 2002, and we rarely exchange cross words. Still, attending a Christmas party with her family?
“Sure,” my ex-wife said. “I’ve got no problem with it.”
So I went, not sure what to expect.
I’d seen my ex-wife’s mom numerous times over the years, and we’ve always gotten along. I’d even seen a few of my ex’s seven siblings once or twice.
But I’d never seen the whole clan – which numbers more than 50 with kids, grandkids and cousins – all together since the divorce.
The big family get-together
I rang the doorbell at the party, and my daughter let me in. She gave me a hug and took my hand.
We walked through the entry hall into the expansive family room where the mob was gathered.
“Hey!” several people shouted.
Two of my ex-wife’s sisters approached me.
“Howdy, stranger!” one said, reaching out to hug me.
“How are you!” another said, also offering a hug.
I was greeted almost like a celebrity. I made my way through the crowd, shaking hands and hugging people.
I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome. The decade since we’d last seen each other evaporated, and I felt like they were my family again.
There’s a message here. When you divorce, you don’t have to lose contact with your ex-wife’s family. Of course, you can if you feel awkward being around them. In some cases, you’re ex’s family wouldn’t want you around.
But in most cases, I’d say, your ex-wife’s family would be happy to see you. And what better time to rebuild relationships than at Christmas? Unless your divorce was extremely bitter, why cut off people who cared about you and vice versa?
Especially if you and your ex had kids together, you should try to maintain a relationship with her family. Your kids had to endure the breakup of their parents. Why make them endure a breakup on their larger family?
When I got to the Christmas party, my son stood by my side much of the time. He seemed comforted by the fact that I had rejoined the fold. I love taking pictures at family events, and this was no different.
I got pictures of all my ex’s siblings and many of their kids, who were tiny the last time I saw them and were now approaching adulthood. I handed someone my camera to take a picture of me and my kids together.
When it was time to go, I made my way through the crowd again. I can’t remember the last time I shook so many hands or received so many hugs.
“Be sure and come back next year,” a brother-in-law of my ex-wife said.
“And every year,” his wife said.
I will. I wouldn’t miss another family Christmas party.
Consider staying in touch with your ex-wife’s family. Even if it’s been years since you talked, you might be surprised at how much you enjoy their company. I was.