What Do You Do About the Family Holiday Card When You’re Getting Divorced?

When you’re going through a divorce, there are a series of steps you have to take. First step, file the documents with the county clerk’s office. Second step, attend mediation or hire an attorney. Third step, eventually divide up the household goods and bank accounts. And the list continues … There are instructions you’re given on how to co-parent, how to divide the assets, even how to get your maiden name back (assuming you weren’t like me and still using it).

But do you know what nobody tells you? What you’re supposed to do about the annual holiday card. The Internet is choked full of resources on how to co-parent and divide marital property and debt. There are tons of articles about how to tell your kids, your parents, your family and friends. But the holiday card … the snail mail treasure that’s meticulously designed and mailed to dozens of family and friends across the country … What do you do about that? None of the resources tell you what you’re supposed to do about the annual holiday card during a divorce.

My ex-husband and I filed for divorce in June 2019. He moved out of the family home in August. By the fall, we were not communicating much, other than texts and emails about shared parenting of Sophie. At the end of the year, our divorce was in process, but not yet finalized. My parents and sisters knew about the divorce, as well as a few close friends. But I never announced our separation on Facebook, and I did not write about the end of my marriage until months after the divorce was finalized. So when “the most wonderful time of the year” rolled around, I was suddenly filled with panic about what I would do for our family holiday card. After all, in today’s world, nothing says “failure” like having no holiday card to show.

Bryan and I were married in 2001, and I’d been sending a photo holiday card since the early years of our marriage. Even before Sophie arrived, I sent cards of the two of us and our dogs. Every year, I created a card and sent it to close to 100 of both of our extended family and friends. I enjoyed sending those cards, and I looked forward to receiving them from friends I had not seen in years. In both San Diego and Indiana, I created a special place in my living room where the cards were displayed.

But last year, I didn’t know what to do. Sure, I could send a card of me and Sophie; or just Sophie and the pets. But then people would ask where Bryan was in the photo, or why his name didn’t appear on the signature line. Sending that holiday card would force me to face questions I wasn’t yet prepared to answer. So what is usually a happy seasonal tradition sent me into full-blown anxiety.

When I was going through my divorce, someone told me that the grief comes in stages and hits you when you least expect it. I found that it’s usually in the little things – like the annual holiday card – where it hits you hard. Because those are the traditions that are suddenly gone and will not return; not in the sense that they “always were.” Those are the moments that made me cry and drove home the permanence of what was happening in my life. I don’t regret my decision at all; a holiday card wouldn’t do that to me. But the “death” of the family unit and relationship was felt all over again when I didn’t have a holiday card to send.

It’s so interesting, really. Of all the resources online and all the money we pay to attorneys and what not, there’s nothing out there that talks about this “simple” tradition. It’s these seemingly little things that are the hardest in major life transitions. So why does no one talk about holiday cards when they’re going through a divorce?

Personally, what I ended up doing was posting a message on Facebook stating that I was not sending cards this year; but I welcome the opportunity to continue receiving yours. …

And then I had to let it go. I had to forgive myself for not knowing the “right thing to do.” And I had to allow myself to grieve and know that was okay to do.

As we entered this December and the first of the cards arrived in the mail, Sophie asked me if we’ll be sending a holiday card this year. Yes, we will, I said. As this is something I want to do. They’ll look different than in years’ past. And this is the first time in nearly 20 years I’ll send a card that’s not from the Singer-Lubic family.

But I don’t look at the cards with sadness or as an example of failure. Instead, they represent a new chapter of my life. They represent peace and the new life Sophie and I have together. Change is always difficult. But I believe that celebrating that change — this time in the form of a holiday card — is a reason for me to rejoice this holiday season.

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