Going through a divorce is one of the most difficult life transitions a person can endure. Worrying about finances, the kids, and becoming a single parent amidst the intense emotional pain of the breakup can feel daunting, hopeless, and exhausting. If that isn’t hard enough, try going through a divorce during the holidays!
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and all of those December parties and get-togethers you feel pressured to attend can make you feel like you’re getting punched in the stomach every day. In other words, you might be saying to yourself, “How am I supposed to be festive, jolly and fun-loving when all I want to do is lie in bed and cry?”
The answer is, not only can you get through the holidays, but you can actually enjoy them, and no, I’m not saying you have to fake it.
Here are four pieces of advice for those going through a divorce during the holidays:
1. Accept that the parenting schedule is what it is.
In most parenting agreements, moms and dads take turns being with the kids for the holidays. So, as a newly separated parent, let’s say this year, the court has ordered that your soon-to-be ex will be with your kids on Christmas Day. Most likely, this is the first Christmas Day of your kids’ lives that you won’t see them. Can you say devastating??
But while a scenario like this is upsetting, I promise you will be OK. My advice is, have Christmas with them on another day. Opening presents, singing songs, and having a nice dinner with family and friends doesn’t have to be on the actual day. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be on Christmas Eve. Make plans in advance to celebrate Christmas with your kids. Any day in December is acceptable! They will remember it the same as if you celebrated on Christmas Day. Also, if your kids are headed to their dad’s (or mom’s) place, please don’t cry and get them upset. Support them and reinforce what a wonderful time they are going to have, and that you are going to be just fine.
2. Traditions: Out with the old, in with the new.
When I was getting divorced, a wise person said to me, “You know you have to start making new traditions. You have to have friends over and cook and drink wine and eat.” Did I want to do that? Definitely not. My life had just fallen apart, and I wasn’t feeling very social. Reluctantly, I listened, and I planned a girl’s night for some women in my community. About two dozen women I barely knew showed up. The night was such a success that I ended up hosting several girl’s nights at my house that year.
Those get-togethers made me laugh a lot, and they gave me the enjoyment of connecting with other women. So, if you and your soon-to-be ex used to celebrate Christmas Eve alone after the kids went to bed with a glass of champagne, or if the two of you used to travel every New Year’s Eve, try to accept that these traditions have come to an end. Embrace the opportunity to start new traditions. Have a tree-decorating night with the kids, plan a girl’s holiday dessert party, or schedule a spa day just for you the day after Christmas. Who knows? The new traditions you make could become your best memories!
3. Being alone can be a gift.
I’m pretty sure I spent every single Thanksgiving of my life with my family and kids up until a few years ago. My dad had recently passed away, and I decided not to travel that year. For the first Thanksgiving ever, my ex had the kids, and I found myself home alone. I’m not going to lie, it felt brutally lonely at first. But guess what? I lived! I ended up cleaning out three closets, watching several episodes of “Ray Donovan,”* and making homemade vegetable soup. It was actually a really nice, restful, peaceful day for which I was thankful. And, I didn’t even have my dog yet! He would have made the day 10 times easier.
* My favorite binge-watching shows besides “Ray Donovan”: “Homeland,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Girls,” “This Is Us,” “Seinfeld,” “Sex and the City,” “The Good Doctor,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Office,” “Bloodline,” “Breaking Bad (didn’t leave the house for 3 months while watching this, by the way),” and “Better Call Saul.”
4. The worst is behind you.
I understand how difficult divorce can be. It can feel empty, lonely, frustrating, and really, really scary. But these feelings will start to fade, and over time, more and more positive experiences will change your outlook and how you feel about your day-to-day life. It was always hard for me to hear people say, “Things will get better,” because I wanted to ask them, “How do you know?” But, they were right.
Things don’t get better quickly, and they don’t get better without any effort in making the things you can control better, but I can almost guarantee that next year at this time, the picture will be a lot clearer and brighter. Your divorce might be final. Your kids will probably be more adjusted. You might be dating someone wonderful. And, you might look back and think the end of your marriage turned out to be the beginning of a better life.
The thing is, the holidays tend to fly by. Before you know it, you’ll be shoveling snow in January and making plans for spring break. So, despite the difficulty of your life right now, try not to wish away the holidays. Instead, embrace them for what they are: A time for feeling gratitude, celebrating loved ones, and of course, believing.