by Cristin M. Lowe
The holidays are already stressful when you’re part of a blissful, intact family. But for over 50% of the population who experience divorce or a separation, the holiday season can feel like a cruel joke when you’re surrounded by ridiculously jolly people who couldn’t possibly understand what you’re going through. Here are some tips for getting through the holidays.
1. Prepare to feel emotional and be okay with it. Holidays are a unique time of the year, and when you think back to all those Thanksgiving meals at your in-laws, it can be a potent reminder of the “good old days” before divorce. Be ready to experience a mix of emotions, from anger and resentment to jealousy, depression, and sadness. Be prepared to have an emotional reaction to everything from a song on the radio to looking through your holiday decorations. Say to yourself, “I am human; I will probably feel sad; and I am ready!” Most importantly, allow yourself to feel those feelings. There is nothing wrong with remembering past years with both fondness and sadness.
2. Don’t postpone joy. There are many, many things to celebrate. It’s okay to cry when you need to, but the rest of the family, especially your children, will often take their cue from you. Find every little thing you can be joyful about this holiday season and share it! One of my old clients started a new family tradition post-divorce: he and the kids put up a “Joy Tree” in their kitchen. The kids made “leaves” out of their traced hand prints on construction paper, and they all wrote down reasons they were happy on the leaves and hung them on the tree.
3. Focus on others. The holidays are really about sharing, being thankful, and giving back. There are all kinds of people that YOU could encourage during the holidays. The holidays aren’t about you, anyway. They are about having a generous heart and a gracious spirit. Cultivate those characteristics and be grateful for every good thing you have. Consider volunteering to help out those less fortunate than you. Helping out others can often get your mind off of your own troubles.
4. Respect old traditions, but don’t be afraid to begin new traditions. Sometimes the best intentions fall short—as parents, we want to protect our children, and as a result, we try to make everything different during the holidays in order to avoid bringing up old memories. That can be a big mistake. Sometimes it’s okay to keep things the same. Children feel secure with routines and traditions, so sit down, talk to your kids and ask them what they want to change or keep the same. Go with the flow of what your children want to do. And remember that YOU have to be comfortable with any change you make, because if you don’t feel comfortable, that’s going to impact your children.
5. Keep it in perspective. Don’t go overboard and try to buy your kids everything they want just because you feel guilty or want to make up for the divorce. Give the gift of time and attention instead. Remember that you aren’t the only person in the world getting a divorce in the middle of the holiday season. Instead of finding people to commiserate with, focus on all that you do still have to be thankful for, and recognize that there are others less fortunate than you. Don’t expect your first holiday season post-divorce to be picture perfect (or your second or third, for that matter). Remember that the holidays aren’t about perfection and focus on what is really important to you, whether it’s family, friends, health, job security, or the excitement of what is yet to be.