Forgetting, for now the increased financial difficulties of travel, holiday gift giving costs and child support, there's the very real problem of visitation times themselves.
For most of us, there are no protections; courts no longer feel restraining orders are "reasonable" for families who divorce and share children. As a result, we are required -- if we want to see our children -- to share physical space with those who abused us.
Most "how to deal with being divorced parents" sites and literature, and, in fact, persons who counsel or advise in these matters are filled with little sound bites of information about how you just have to act normal at these times. Be it Christmas, a school graduation, a wedding, you and your ex just have to politely co-exist. While it certainly is true that you want to get along so that you don't harm your children with arguments (or worse), and that adopting a casual attitude of positivity is the best way to attempt this, let's be real here. You are not merely exes, not former lovers, not a couple who suffered a break-up; you are the victim facing the man who attacked and abused you.
You're not the victim of random violence, a person in the wrong place at the wrong time; you're a person harmed and even hunted by the man who promised to cherish you forever, the man you shared secrets with, the man you trusted, the man you had children with.
It's as personal as it gets.
But now, here you are. Lucky enough to have survived, but unlucky enough to be tied to this man for the lifetime of your shared offspring -- not because it's natural, but because this unnatural requirement to stand before this man, the child or children you produced between you, has been dictated to you by a completely f-ed up system that somehow arbitrates the situation as "fair" and "best."
So you fight to override your emotional and physical fight or flight responses; you can forgive, but the body and psyche don't forget. (Even if you forgive, who asks any victim to spend time with the one who victimized them -- let alone be nice and pleasant about it?)
You fight sanity and do your best to show the dictated "healthy" interaction -- which only role models insanity, along with a perverse sense of "appropriate" response to danger. To the very children you vowed to protect and educate.
You fight to present "normal" in a situation which is anything but.
While you stand there, undulating from the conflicting messages (those from your body and those you've been taught about danger and safety), taking the abuse being dished out (and, honey, yes, he'll relish your forced captivity and delight in holding you hostage to it), dizzy with wonder that this is part of dispensed justice, you also have to worry about what you are projecting.
You must appear pleasantly docile. Any signs to the contrary, and he'll lodge a complaint regarding your non-compliance to authorities. (Heck, he might do that regardless; so it's best to be accompanied for your legal and emotional safety.)
Your visitation meeting mask must also be blank enough that you neither scare nor further indoctrinate your children that horrible behaviors are to be tolerated. For while you must remain "nice" and "normal" at the time of the meeting, you should also be prepared to discuss with your child -- in an appropriate manner -- what is not acceptable. Or at least what is considered not acceptable by the rest of the world, so that they may at least attempt to set boundaries of physical and emotional safety.
Yes, you're restrained from keeping yourself safe, muzzled and bound to more silence; but what's worse, is that your hands are tied when it comes to educating your children on how to be safe.
This is a large part of continuing the cycle of domestic violence: the children are trained to accept it.
Knowing that, only makes it all worse.
The injustice of what you are
But you simply cannot show it.
If you do, you will be held up as yet another example of a woman who doesn't know her place. No wonder he had to hit her. The court system has no patience for women who don't follow their mandated rules.
Visitation times are more examples of your powerlessness -- and that abuse never ends.
How do you not let all that consume your holidays?
With patience, intelligence, grace, and gratitude.
And the support of others who know.