It’s early November and you’ve probably already started thinking about the Holidays. If this is the first year since your divorce or separation, you may not be feeling much like celebrating. You may be wishing you could just skip the next couple of months altogether. I get that, but it’s not what experts recommend. As your divorce coach, I’d be encouraging you to find the ways to enjoy the Holidays after divorce.
Why? Because traditions are the glue that holds families together and while you and your spouse are no longer a couple, you do still have a family. That means your challenge this year is to consciously think about the upcoming season and consider what traditions you want to keep (and are able to keep), which ones you want to drop and which new ones you’d like to start. This is a key step in healing from your divorce.
Here are our favorite tips:
Adjust Your Attitude
Rather than thinking that the Holidays will be dreadful try thinking that they will not be the same, that they will be different. Different does not automatically mean bad but rather just not what you’re used too. Changes can bring just as much enjoyment, especially if you’re proactive.
Take It One Year At A Time
Like so much else to do with divorce, you just have to take the changes one step at a time and be realistic about how much you can handle. With all the other changes going on in your life, it is absolutely acceptable to cut back on the Holiday celebrations. You don’t have to go all-out this year. Next year might be different and you can make that decision when the time comes. If doing something this year is going to be too painful for you, you don’t have to do it. It doesn’t mean you won’t ever do it again. It simply means that you are deciding that it is not something you can do THIS year.
Involve Your Kids
Clearly, you aren’t the only one affected by your breakup. Your kids are too and that applies even to adult kids. Your Holiday traditions are important to them so include them in your Holiday planning – ask them what they’ve loved about past Holidays and ask them to also share what hasn’t been fun. Be open to their suggestions about new traditions and activities to try.
Decide What Traditions To Keep
To decide what traditions to keep, it’s helpful to make a list of all the ways you’ve celebrated the Holidays in the past, such as the timing of celebratory meals and what dishes are served, decorating the home, how you’ve handled gift-giving, religious services, parties and entertainment, and visiting with family.
As your first step, you can eliminate any traditions you know you won’t be keeping. These may be ones that came from your ex and don’t hold meaning for you or that you’ve never particularly enjoyed but that you have participated in previously because that’s what couples do. For example, if your ex had a different faith from you, you may have attended a service at their place of worship and they may have reciprocated. You no longer need to do this but you might also choose to keep this tradition going if you’ve both agreed to keep taking your children to both services.
Modify Some Traditions
As you review your list of traditions, you’ll see some that you want to keep but don’t want to do in quite the same way. For example, your ex always liked going out to the forest to cut your own tree. While you did have fun doing that, it just seems too time consuming now and from a budget standpoint, you think getting an artificial tree would be better. Or maybe you and your ex always decorated the tree together but her family always did it on Christmas Eve and you grew up doing it the first weekend in December. Well, now you get to choose what works best for you.
Recently a client told me that she didn’t know what she wanted to do about Thanksgiving. She was so confused and wasn’t sure she felt up to it. When I asked her what she had enjoyed most about Thanksgiving previously she said she’d loved having people in her house and had always put on a big spread. As we talked she realized it was the catering the meal that she didn’t want to do and that she still wanted people to come to her home. The solution was a potluck and most people are very happy and willing to chip in and share.
Not having plans for the specific Holiday such as Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day makes some of us anxious. It seems like everyone else has something to do, is having fun, and here you are, sitting at home, alone with nothing to do. The best solution to this is to plan ahead and be proactive. Don’t wait for someone else to ask you. You can reach out to your friends, invite them to come to you, or invite yourself to join them. You could also plan an activity such as going for a hike or going skiing. If your place of employment is open, you might volunteer to work the Holiday shifts.
Celebrate Another Day
Nothing says you can only celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day or Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day. You can be flexible and choose to observe a Holiday on a different day. This works really well with shared parenting time and with family members and friends who may have other commitments. For example, if your children are going to be with their other parent on Thanksgiving Day, you can plan an activity for Turkey Day and have your celebration with your children another time.
If your children are going to end up with two celebrations do involve them in the planning. When my children were younger, my ex and I alternated Thanksgiving and usually we would each cook a big meal for them. One year, when my kids were to be with their Dad for the official day and with me on the Friday, my son shared that he didn’t want me cooking another big meal – it was just too much food. That was eye-opening for me – I had seen it as an essential part of our celebration together while it was clearly not something the kids truly enjoyed.
You Can Celebrate Without Your Ex
There is significant pressure on divorcing couples to co-parent and to be in each other’s presence for special occasions. If you and your ex can be at the same table together, or share a gift-exchange together for the benefit of your children, without anger, hostility or tension, then kudos to you. That’s truly a gift you can give to your children.
However, it’s important to be realistic about this. If the thought of it turns your stomach or makes you want to cry, you don’t have to do it. These occasions are no fun for anyone when people are arguing and if that’s what’s likely to happen, then there is no reason to put yourself into the situation. And again, the decision you make this year, is for THIS year. You may be in an entirely different place emotionally next year and feel very different about being in the presence of your ex.
Volunteering to help others makes us feel good whenever we do it. Doing it during the Holidays though seems to compound the feel good effect. From a selfish standpoint, it’s also an excellent way to give yourself something to do especially when you feel your friends and families already have commitments. Check your local news sources for organizations that are calling for volunteers during the Holiday period. This is a great way to meet new people and those connections may turn into friendships.
Connect With Others
Feeling alone over the Holidays is miserable and can amplify all the hard emotions that come with divorce. Most of us have a fundamental need to feel connected and the Holidays intensify feelings of isolation so it’s important to reach out to others and be proactive.
This isn’t always easy – people going through divorce often self-isolate from a fear of being judged or a desire for privacy. Your social circle may have shrunk dramatically if your friends were mostly through your spouse or if you don’t live close to family. Reaching out proactively makes us feel vulnerable especially if it’s something we’re not used to doing. What scares us is the thought that the other person might say no and while that is a real possibility, it’s not a reason not to call. If someone says no, take it that it simply means they have another commitment. Don’t read anything more into it than that. And then call someone else.
Join A Divorce Support Group
One of the easiest ways to be with others over the Holidays is to join a Divorce Support Group. There you will be able to connect with others at different stages of divorce who will be able to offer you support and understanding and community. Over time some of those connections may develop into friendships and an active social community.
Micki McWade is the author of two books: Getting Up, Getting Over, Getting On: A Twelve Step Guide to Divorce Recovery and Daily Meditations For Surviving A Breakup, Separation or Divorce – both available on Amazon.com.
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