When Yana married her high school sweetheart, she couldn’t have imagined that 13 years later she would be spending Christmas alone in a park while her son spent the holiday with his dad. It was a difficult moment, but it was also a wake-up call that she couldn’t allow herself to be miserable in her new life.
The picture of teenage love, Yana met Travis when she was 16 years old. They married just days before her 21st birthday, and nine years later Landon was born. But when their son was three years old, Yana came to the difficult realization that she would be happier if she left the marriage.
“I had spent months trying to figure out how to fix the marriage, but it wasn’t about the marriage. It was about me. The relationship needed to go away so I could fix myself,” she said.
They separated in the summer of 2017, with Thanksgiving right around the corner. There was no parenting schedule in place yet, but on that fateful Thursday, Travis told Yana that he didn’t want her around while he celebrated with his son.
Yana respected his wishes, knowing that she would be giving Landon a second Thanksgiving at her parents’ house later that day.
“I let Landon have that time alone with his dad. I wasn’t going to hurt my son because I decided to leave my marriage.”
Dec. 25 is just a day on the calendar
Christmas rolled around just a few short weeks later, and by that time there was a parenting schedule which stated that Yana would have Landon from Thursday afternoon to Sunday evening every week. But Christmas fell on a Monday that year, which meant that Landon would only be spending it with Travis.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alone as I did that morning. I spent the day in the park just so I would have people around me.”
It’s a sad memory to reflect upon, but things got better for Yana. She eventually realized that holidays can be celebrated whenever the time is right, and that Dec. 25 is just another day on the calendar.
“Now I know that if I don’t have Landon on a particular holiday, we can celebrate another time. It might not be on the exact day, but it still happens. I still get to see my son and enjoy those special moments.”
One present, two parents
That’s not to say that emotion doesn’t still hit Yana during the holidays, like when Landon made her a calendar for Christmas, but it ended up with his dad instead.
“His dad was supposed to get a copy, but he ended up keeping the original. Landon was really upset about it,” she said, adding that she had to hide her own pain to keep his spirits up.
“I had to turn that crappy situation into something positive, so I told Landon the copy was actually better because the paper was sturdier and it would last longer,” she said.
Yana sees those moments as opportunities to be the best example she can be for her son.
“I was crying on the inside, but I couldn’t show him that. I want him to be able to see the best in every situation, so I need to do that too.”
But happy tears were to come. One day at a jiu-jitsu tournament, Landon earned two medals. Yana had assumed they would stay at Travis’ house because all his competition belts were there – but she was wrong.
“He walked up and handed them to me. It was a really great day, but I still felt for his dad because I had experienced that same kind of hurt.”
Don’t ignore your emotions
Yana and Travis have both moved on since their divorce, although they only communicate with one another if they need to discuss Landon. Yana is currently focused on expanding her career, while Travis is engaged and recently had a baby with his fiancé.
“They’ll start their own family traditions, and they’ll want Landon to be part of those. That might mean that I need to be flexible with our usual parenting schedule, and I’m prepared for that.”
Flexibility is the name of the game, according to Yana, who recently sacrificed her usual time with her son so that he could go to Disney World with Travis’ family.
“I’d rather not miss my time with Landon, but who am I to take that amazing experience away from him? If he gets to have fun and create memories, then I’m happy for him,” she said, knowing that someday she’ll be the one asking for a change in the regular schedule.
And when the future calls for her to rub elbows with Travis at major life events, she’s ready to do so.
“When Landon graduates, or if he gets married, I’ll have no problem being around Travis. It won’t be about me, or about him. It will be about our son.”
Speaking from experience, Yana says that parents who are newly separated or divorced should never hide or ignore their emotions.
“Those feelings are normal; they’re going to happen. Just feel them. You might find yourself in the middle of a park sobbing, and that’s okay.”
She also says parents should never lose sight of what matters – the children.
“Isn’t the whole point of being a parent to give the best to your kid and teach them to be a good person? Parents must model that behavior. Remember to pick your battles and try not to get too upset if something isn’t fair – no matter how much you’re hurting.”
Tea and cookies for Santa
This year on Christmas Eve, eight-year-old Landon will go to bed with the same nervous anticipation we can all remember as kids. He’ll wake up to beautifully wrapped presents and check to make sure that Santa ate his cookies and drank his tea.
“One of our traditions is that we give Santa elderberry tea because we want him to be as healthy as possible,” Yana said with a smile.
Yana will then make her son a cup of hot cocoa with a candy cane swirling around inside, one of his favorite holiday treats. And when 5 o’clock rolls around, Landon will continue the celebration at his dad’s house.
Although Yana isn’t looking forward to saying goodbye to her son on Christmas Day, she knows she’ll be perfectly fine when the time comes – and you certainly won’t find her crying in a public park.
“I feel at peace with my situation. I won’t say it’s gotten easier because it hasn’t. I just know how to handle it now, and that makes all the difference.”
Yana’s full name has been intentionally withheld to protect the identity of her ex-husband, with whom she shares a surname.