Having Divorced Parents Never Felt Complicated, Until I Birthed Their Grandkids

by Sara Farrell Baker
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Like most children hearing their parents are getting a divorce, I was upset. I was 5 years old, and it was hard for me to see anything positive about this new arrangement. This is mostly because divorce meant change, and I do not willingly accept change. As time when on, I was able to appreciate that my parents were happier people apart and that, for them, divorce was a fantastic idea.

Let us all toast divorce! Thank you, divorce.

Not long after the initial separation, I learned one thing to truly be thankful for, all credit going to my good buddy, divorce.

Two Christmases! If my parents had led with that when they broke the news, I likely would have taken it like a champ.

Any 5-year-old worth their salt will tell you that having two Christmases is awesome, and two birthdays, and two Easters, and two whatever-else-we-need-to-celebrate-two-times. Having two Christmases when your parents both feel guilty and are trying to buy your affection and outdo each other with toys is especially awesome. And if you think I was a spoiled brat or sound awful, I was 5, and yes, I was spoiled and awful. I doubt you were Mother Teresa at 5. I doubt Mother Teresa was Mother Teresa at 5. Now stop being jealous of my two Christmases, so I can get to the point.

As I got older, the doubling of holidays and special occasions eventually lost its luster. I am too old for toys and have gotten marginally less awful with each passing year since being a 5-year-old. The allure of two Christmases is long gone.

Now that I have children of my own, two Christmases is a royal pain in the ass. Pretty much all holidays, birthdays, milestones, and things that are generally celebrated are complicated when you have to accommodate parents. And here’s the thing: I am not the only one in my marriage with parents. We’ve got my husband’s family to work into this deal — so his parents, my mom, and my dad. After our firstborn’s first year, we decided to alternate years for seeing his family or mine for certain holidays. That year was a quick lesson in how much it sucks to cart your newborn all over your state for meals and parties with different grandparents, so we drew the line.

Now, as my kids get a little older — they are sage and old at a whopping 2 and 4 years old — the complications are only increasing. At weddings where both of my parents are present, I need to be careful to spend equal amounts of time with them. They probably aren’t counting, but the pressure that comes with the possibility that they might be is enough to make me aware of the midpoint in the “Electric Slide” so I can run between the sides of the family while maintaining an “I love you both the same” balance. My kids are mostly pleased during events like this because they get double cake, so they can eat a slice with Grandma and Grandpa.

My father lives out of state, which presents its own set of circumstances to deal with. My mom gets a lot more time with her grandchildren and thus, a deeper relationship. They frequently ask to call or FaceTime her. She has them over for sleepovers or comes to spend time with them at our house.

Because my kids only see my dad a handful of times a year, he takes priority when he visits. But when those visits fall on some kind of special occasion, like my daughter’s recent 2nd birthday, I have to start working both sides of the aisle. I made plans shortly after my dad was scheduled to go back home, so that my mom wouldn’t feel left out for long. I limited social media postings so the tiny celebration we had wouldn’t be thrown in her face. The need to keep these to tiny gatherings and not let them turn into actual parties also becomes important.

Instead of a big party, we end up having several little parties, sometimes spread over weeks. Everyone feels included. No one feels like a second-tier grandparent. I feel exhausted. But almost everyone wins! My kids certainly do. Two birthdays, amiright?! (I hope you’re picking up on the sarcasm.)

Sometimes, I think of keeping any celebrating extra-small and limiting the attendees to me, my husband, and our kids. The awkwardness I feel from having both my parents attend the same event is enough for me to decide to have two of them and skip that weirdness. I should note that the weirdness and awkwardness are pretty much mine and mine alone. Because I’ve grown so used to not having my parents in a room together over a quarter of a century, it feels weird as shit on the rare occasions that they are. They don’t say or do anything to put that burden on me, so I can’t blame them or call them out. But it’s there. And sometimes the weirdness is enough for me to decide to do two events, so that I can avoid it.

And then sometimes the amount of work that goes into doubling the event load is enough for me to throw my hands up and yell, “Screw it! We shall exist alone! In this bubble!” and I end up needing to buy way less pizza, and it’s less fun, but I tell myself that this is easier and that easy is good. And it is.

It’s unfortunate, because in trying to prevent either parent from feeling excluded, I can end up excluding them both. They miss out. My kids miss out. I miss out. You would think divorce stops messing with your kids once they’re adults, but it feels way more complicated for me now than it ever did when I was a child. At least my therapist can rest easy knowing that she will never be out of a job. I have a feeling I’ll be working some of this out for a while.