If there were some simple, easy tricks wouldn’t you want to know how to embrace the holidays while dealing with your divorce?
Of course you would! After all, there is no escaping the festive spirit. It’s everywhere – in the shops, on the T.V., on the radio, at your work, in your neighborhood, at your kid’s school …
I know you might be plotting how you can skip the holidays, keep a low profile, push the fast forward button to January but do you really want to do that? Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a way to switch gears right now and start enjoying the season?
The good news is there are some pretty, simple cheats to changing this around and joining me for this Conversation is fellow divorce coach, Martha Bodyfelt. You might recognize Martha as a regular contributor to this blog – her posts are always popular and appreciated. Listen in below or keeping reading for a synopsis of this Conversation.
Why Do People Dread The Holidays?
While everyone has their own specific reasons from dreading the holidays, there are some common themes. Bodyfelt says the number one reason she hears from her clients is that the holidays always meant family, happiness and warmth. Throw divorce into the picture and none of that seems true anymore. The kids might not be home, your spouse may be around but the relationship is anything but warm, and this year, you may not be going to your in-laws as you’ve done for the last ten years. Going to family events might mean having to respond to questions from well-meaning relatives about where is your spouse and how things are going.
“It’s difficult for folks because they don’t have that warmth they remember and it’s replaced with. ‘I’m going into this cold, empty house. It’s just going to be me and my crappy T.V. dinner,'” said Bodyfelt.
The second reason that Bodyfelt hears is that people feel that how they are planning to celebrate the holidays is wrong, that they were doing it incorrectly. They don’t feel like cooking. They don’t feel like decorating and that all makes you feel out of sync with the season. It’s not just women who feel this; men feel it too.
“We have a choice to celebrate the holidays however we choose,” said Bodyfelt. “But people feel this pressure to have this picture perfect Pinterest holiday.”
People are too hard on themselves.
The third common reason Bodyfelt has found for dreading the holidays is that people automatically anticipate that the holidays will be bad because divorce is happening. It often doesn’t occur to people to think in terms of the holidays being ‘different’ as opposed to bad. Bodyfelt says once you change your perspective to different, it opens the possibility that different can also mean enjoyable.
You Are Still A Family
Divorce often makes people feel that they are no longer a family and this applies if the children are very young, it applies if the kids are in high school, in college and even if they are adult kids living away from home. As divorce coaches, we are always stressing that divorce doesn’t mean you’re not a family anymore.
“You have a family but the family is just going to be different,” said Bodyfelt. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be worse. It doesn’t mean that you are unworthy of celebrating the holidays. It just means things are different and that’s OK.”
The Ghost of Holidays Past
There’s also an odd tendency to idealize the past. When you can no longer celebrate the holidays in the way you’ve been doing for the past however many years, you remember all the good things, all the fun activities, all the laughter. And that’s great but people all too often forget the reality.
“You’re feeling lonely because you’re comparing this false idea of a perfect holiday that may have happened ten years ago, that if you looked back at it, you may have forgotten all the bad stuff,” said Bodyfelt.
That’s bad stuff like overspending and running up too much credit card debt that took forever to pay off. That’s bad stuff like your spouse drinking too much and you guys getting into a fight.
“We like to sweep the bad things under the rug and remember the perfect holiday,” said Bodyfelt. “It was never perfect in the past and we’re romanticizing the past.”
Families Can Be Intrusive
Let’s be honest. As much as you may love spending time with your family, there are always some irritants. It might be your mom reminding you that she never liked your choice of spouse and she tried to warn you. It might be your uncle or aunt wanting to know how the divorce is going and how you’d better be prepared for a fight because in their day … It might be your cousin wanting to give you the 101 on Internet dating.
This is where Bodyfelt says, “Boundaries are beautiful.”
“There are ways you can set boundaries so you can still spend time with the people you love and want to be around without exposing yourself and your emotions, if you don’t feel like doing that.”
It is also quite possible that your well-meaning aunt doesn’t realize she’s being intrusive. One way to be prepared for this is to think of the questions you imagine your family members asking you. All the ones you that you don’t want to answer. All the ones that make you tense up as you think about them.
Then craft how you would respond to them without saying more than you want. It could be as simple as “I don’t want to talk about that.” Knowing how you want to respond and even practicing the responses, means you’ll be prepared when the time comes and you’ll feel less awkward and more confident.
Be Selective About Social Events
You are not obligated to accept every social invite you get. If you’ll love it and you want to go then go. If you’re on the fence, really would rather not go, then don’t.
“My motto is you are too old and too good to have to go to stuff you don’t enjoy in your spare time,” said Bodyfelt.
It’s perfectly acceptable to go solo and if you do, be prepared for questions about where your spouse is. Again, this is where knowing your boundaries and being prepared is important. You don’t have respond with, ‘Well, we’re getting divorced so I really didn’t want her to come,’ although if you’re feeling mischievous it might be interesting to see how others respond. It would be quite sufficient to say, ‘He had another commitment.’
Bodyfelt also points out that many invitations are ‘plus-one’ and that doesn’t mean ‘spouse.’ If you want to go, don’t want to go solo, enlist the support of a friend.
Stay Home If You Want
There are no rules that say you have to go out. If you feel like staying at home, then give yourself permission to do that.
“This season should be about celebrating what gives you joy,” said Bodyfelt. “If that’s watching Netflix and binge-watching Narcos because you haven’t been able to do that, I say do that.”
Now, if you find yourself coming home from work and never socializing, not exercising, and this has been going on for weeks, then you might want to check in with a mental health professional to make sure you’re not clinically depressed.
Donate Your Time
Another suggestion for what you can do with your time over the holidays is to donate it. It’s a great way to redirect your feelings of loneliness.
“Helping others who are less fortunate really reminds you that yeah, you’re going through a bad patch right now but it’s going to pass,” said Bodyfelt. “It reminds you how rich you really are.”
You Can Afford The Holidays
Another common complaint about the holidays is that they cost too much. Divorce always means less money so it’s easy to feel pressure about money and especially if you think your STBX is going to outspend and overshadow you.
When Bodyfelt’s clients raise money as a reason for wanting to skip the holidays, she walks them through a visualization exercise and asks what a peaceful, tranquil holiday looks like.
“People never say it’s a perfect holiday when I’m spending $1,000 on Christmas gifts,” said Bodyfelt.
Instead people talk about walking down Main Street with the lights, watching It’s A Wonderful Life, listening to Christmas music.
When people are looking for holiday comfort, it has nothing to do with spending money. It’s more about free or low-cost things.
It is important to be realistic about your finances and that may be challenging if you’re still working through your transition and don’t yet have a firm handle on your household finances. It would wise not to spend on your credit card as you may have done previously especially if you’ll just setting yourself up for a tough new year when the credit card bills arrive.
Now’s also a good time to have an honest conversation with your kids about your budget and to start setting their expectations for the holidays. Bodyfelt suggests asking them what they’ve most enjoyed from past seasons and you may find that what they share is the experiences rather than the gifts.
Create Your Own Traditions
Yes, this holiday season is not going to be like the ones in the past. You’re working on a fresh start for yourself and you can work on a fresh start for the holidays. You get to cherry pick the traditions you’d like to keep and those you’d like to ditch.
“This is the holiday gift for yourself,” said Bodyfelt. “You can be liberated from all the societal pressure for what a perfect holiday looks like.”
This can be your opportunity to create a smaller, more manageable and more meaningful season for years to come for you and your children.
Martha Bodyfelt is a CDC Certified Divorce Coach® whose website “Surviving Your Split” helps readers navigate their divorce with less stress and drama, so they can move on with their lives. For your Free Divorce Goddess Recovery Kit, stop by http://survivingyoursplit.com/ or drop Martha a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.