12 Tips for Surviving Divorce During the Holidays

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There is no way to sugar-coat it. Surviving a divorce during the holidays is rough!

You can’t help but remember past holidays when your family was together. Even if those past holidays were less than perfect (how many of us really have perfect holidays?) they were still family holidays. Now you feel like the Grinch stole your family as well as Christmas!

Instead of being full of the holiday spirit, you are full of …. nothing.

You just feel empty, lonely, and sad. Or maybe you’re angry, resentful, and wildly stressed out about your divorce AND the holidays!

As unproductive as you know it is, you’re also probably wallowing in a sea of self-pity, wondering, “Why me?”, “Why now?” and “This sucks!”

No matter what you’re feeling, one thing is certain. When you’re dealing with a divorce during the holidays, you’re not exactly full of Yuletide joy.

Yet, believe it or not, going through a divorce doesn’t have to ruin your holidays!

Sure. It will change them. Christmas this year WILL be different than Christmas was in years past. But just because your holidays will be different, that doesn’t mean they need to be destroyed.

Here are 12 Tips to help make your holidays brighter, even if you’re feeling pretty dim about them now.

12 Tips for Surviving Divorce During the Holidays

Man carrying Christmas gifts

1. Reign in Your Expectations.

Forget about Normal Rockwell. Not every holiday in your life – or your kids’ lives -- is going to be picture perfect! (Sorry!) As a matter of fact, your ideas about what the “perfect” holiday “should” be like are probably draining you of a lot of joy – even in good years!

This year, give yourself the gift of realistic expectations.

You don’t have to bake 15 different kinds of Christmas cookies, send Christmas cards, decorate every inch of the house, buy your kids amazing and expensive presents, decorate a 12-foot Christmas tree, hang lights outside, AND cook a Christmas meal that would make Martha Stewart jealous!

Trying to do EVERYTHING – especially when what you really want to do is stay in bed with the covers over your head – will only stress you out. It will make you feel even more inadequate.

Give yourself a break. Resolve to do your best. Then let the rest go.

Do less to be more. Everyone (including your kids) will be happier for it!

2. Don’t Throw a Pity Party.

Acknowledging that this holiday season may not be your best is one thing. But expecting it to suck at every turn is not going to make it any better. It will only make you (and everyone around you!) feel worse!

Yes. Going through a divorce during the holidays sucks. Not being together as a family for the holidays sucks. It even sucks if you ARE still together, but you know that this is will probably be your last holiday together.

None of those things are fun.

But focusing on everything you DON’T have will only make you sink deeper into the muck of self-pity.

No matter how difficult this holiday season may be for you, if you look, you can still find bits of joy everywhere. Those “bits” may be small. They may be crumbs. But focusing on them will help you feel grateful instead of miserable.

Woman checking box on a list.

3. Plan Ahead. 

This is not the year to be spontaneous. When your entire world is already falling apart, you need something to hold on to! The more organized you are, and the more you can plan ahead, the more likely you will be to have a halfway decent holiday.

What’s more “planning” when you’re dealing with a divorce during the holidays involves more than normal holiday planning.

First of all, you need to think about your kids.

If you’re separated, start planning where the kids will be on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day NOW! Waiting until the very last minute to set up your kids’ holiday and school break schedule will just add more stress to all of your lives. (And FIGHTING about that schedule at the last minute adds a whole extra layer of drama to the holidays that nobody needs!)

Second, think about yourself.

If the kids aren’t going to be with you for all or part of the holidays, you need to plan for yourself too! Isolating yourself is NOT the way to have a happy holiday! Go visit family. Visit friends. Volunteer. Do something – anything!

Having nothing to do and nowhere to go will only lead you deeper into the black hole of self-pity.

4. Give Yourself Permission …

Christmas is a time of giving gifts. Yet the one person we often leave OFF the gift list is ourselves!

This year, give yourself the best gift of all. Give yourself permission to be yourself. Give yourself permission to do and to feel whatever you want to do and feel. (Just be careful of what you do in front of the kids!)

Here are a few more things you can give yourself permission to do (or not do!) this year: Give yourself permission …

Beautiful woman biting her lip trying to give herself permission to do something.
  • … NOT do things that overwhelm you or don’t give
    you joy (i.e. sending Christmas cards, baking cookies, etc.)
  • … NOT go to parties if you don’t feel like it.
  • … NOT to listen to your ex’s trash talking.
  • … NOT to get sucked into your ex’s drama,
  • … TO take care of yourself.
  • … TO be kind to yourself and your kids.
  • … TO allow yourself to be sad if that’s how you feel.
  • … TO treat yourself to little things that make
    you happy.
  • … TO say “No.”

5. Keep it Simple. 

Less is more. You don’t need to be “doing” something every minute of every day - especially while you are trying to navigate a divorce during the holidays. Resist the urge to fill every waking moment of your Christmas holiday with activities.

While keeping yourself busy can help distract you from the misery of your current situation, scheduling too many activities will only make you feel more stressed out and overwhelmed than ever.

Be selective about what you do. Scale back on the holiday traditions that don’t bring joy to you or your kids. Don’t be afraid to say “No” to anything that you only do out of a sense of obligation.

I know it sounds corny, but simple things can bring you great joy. That, in and of itself, is a blessing.

Upset man wearing a Santa Hat is getting a divorce during the holidays

6. Focus on the Big Picture. 

Yes, this is one of those “easier said than done,” pieces of advice. We all know we “should” let the little things go. But how?

Start by zooming out and getting a little perspective.

Ask yourself what you did on Christmas in 1982? Not that old? Okay. What did you do on Christmas in 2002 or even 2012? Unless you have a memory like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” I bet you won’t be able to remember.

When you take the long view you soon realize that what you do on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day this year probably doesn’t matter as much as you think.

Of course, holidays are important. But so are the other 364 days in the year!

If your holidays this year are terrible, anything you do next year will be better. So, this year’s failure will remove next year’s pressure.

As for your kids, they will take their cues from you.

If they see you making the best of a less than perfect holiday, they are more likely to do the same. They will also learn that it is possible that not every holiday in their life will be fabulous … and they will survive!

Sad woman in Santa hat getting a divorce during the holidays.

7. Let go of guilt.

Nothing sucks the joy out of the holidays more quickly than guilt.

How can you be full of Christmas cheer when all you can think about is, “I’m a bad person because (fill in the blank with whatever horrible thing you think you did here)?”! Or, “My kids are going to have a crappy Christmas and it’s all MY fault!”

Miring yourself in a sea of guilt serves NO good purpose. It’s a downer for you, and an even bigger downer for your kids.

So, this year, give yourself the gift of a “guilt-free” holiday.

Instead of feeling guilty that your kids no longer have the same holiday celebrations that they used to have, try feeling grateful for the fact that you can create new holiday traditions. Instead of feeling guilty for not being the “perfect” parent or giving your kids the “perfect” childhood, try feeling grateful that you can teach your kids how to be flexible and how to deal with life’s imperfections.

Feeling grateful is one of the best ways to shift yourself out of guilt and into a more positive state. (And stop listening to the voice in your head that keeps criticizing you for ruining your kids’ holidays! Send your inner critic on vacation for the holidays. Then focus instead on something more positive.)

Homeless man accepting Christmas present.

8. Live the holiday spirit.

The spirit of Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanza, or whatever you celebrate) is bigger than you. It is a spirit of selflessness and sharing.

This year, focus on trying to connect with that spirit and doing something for someone else who is less fortunate than you.

It may seem like a cliché, but sharing your time and energy with others who have even less than you do will remind you of how truly lucky you are, in spite of having to deal with getting a divorce during the holidays (and  everything that goes along with it!).

If you want to be really radical, extend the holiday spirit to your soon-to-be-ex as well. (Yeah, this one is hard!)

Put your own feelings aside and take your kids Christmas shopping so they can get a gift for your soon-to-be-ex. Make sure they invite him/her to their school holiday celebration and other holiday activities. Show them that, regardless of how you may feel about your soon-to-be-ex, you respect him/her as your child’s other parent.

Of course, if you and your spouse are engaged in World War III right now, raising the peace flag (even just temporarily) may not be possible. If being in the same room with your spouse is likely to cause explosions, then NOT being together may be wiser for you at the moment.

But, if you can call a truce with your spouse so that you have peace for the holidays, both of you – and your kids! – are more likely to have a happy holiday season.

9. Get Back to Basics.

Divorced or not, it’s easy to get caught up in the over-hyped consumerism of the holiday season. We are constantly being bombarded with advertisements telling us what to buy, where to buy it, and how, if we “buy now,” we can get whatever it is that we are supposed to want at 50% off!

When money is tight, the push to “Buy, buy, buy!” things that you can’t afford makes you feel like a gigantic loser. It’s even worse is when your spouse just bought your kids the most expensive toys and gadgets on the market, while you can barely afford to put dinner on the table.

This holiday season, forget about expensive gifts and get back to basics.

Focus on the experience you create, rather than on the gifts that you give or get. Spend time with your kids. Get involved in their activities. Binge-watch your favorite movies together. Drive around in the evening to see all the Christmas lights in the neighborhood. Cook dinner together (or treat yourself to carryout Chinese!)

Focus on enjoying your time together, rather than on giving or getting more stuff.

Note to Santa asking for mommy and daddy to love each other.

10. Ditch the Drama.

This holiday season, try to spread peace instead of war. (Yes. This one is tough, especially if you have a high conflict spouse.) But, for your own sanity, as well as your kids’ happiness, try doing as much as you can to calm the conflict and have an amicable divorce. (Or, at the very least, have an amicable holiday!)

How do you do that? First, DECIDE you’re not going to fight during the holidays. As simple as that may seem, just making a decision not to fight makes it more likely that you will ditch the drama.

Second, do your holiday planning as far in advance as possible. Suck up your feeling of dread and talk to your spouse NOW about holiday schedules and parties and gifts. The more you plan in advance, the less
there is to fight about later. (If you have a high conflict spouse, have your “talk” via email, text, or parenting app.)

Finally, avoid consuming any alcohol until AFTER you’ve dealt with your spouse for the day.

Managing your emotions when you’re stressed out and upset (i.e. when you’re going through a divorce!) is difficult enough for anyone. Adding the holidays to the mix only makes dealing with your emotions harder. Throwing alcohol on top of all of that can easily be the straw that pushes you over the edge.

While non-alcoholic egg nog may not be your favorite holiday drink, it also won’t make you say or do things that you’ll later regret either.

11. Cut Yourself Some Slack.

Just for once: Be kind to yourself! During the holiday, do something that makes you happy – maybe something you haven’t done for years!

It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It just has to be something that you enjoy. So maybe you spend time reading a good book. Watch a movie or a sporting event that your spouse never wanted to see. Buy yourself a present!

Also, don’t isolate yourself. While there’s nothing wrong with being alone right now, being alone is often the first step toward throwing yourself a pity-party that will only make you feel worse.

Being with others (at least for a while) will help you take your mind off of your own pain.

Get out of the house. Go to a coffee shop. Visit a relative. Go to a movie. Do something that will help you feel the human connection that all of us need.

Finally, make peace with the fact that this may not be the best holiday you have ever had in your life. That’s okay. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that are running through you like wildfire through dry brush. Just don’t let yourself wallow in them.

Happy children decorate a Christmas tree.

12. Create a Great Experience for Your Kids.

In our consumer culture, we tend to equate “having fun” with buying things. But having fun is an experience –it’s not a “thing!”

This Christmas, instead of going into debt to buy your kids more stuff they don’t need, focus on creating experiences your kids will never forget. In other words, go out of your way to create “magical moments.”

What’s a magical moment? It’s one of those rare moments in life that sticks in our memory banks forever. It can be a moment of insight, or a creative breakthrough, or an experience that is so amazing you remember it forever.

While most people think that magical moments “just happen,” the truth is that you can create them.

The problem, of course, is that creating magical moments takes work! (That’s why most people don’t do it!) But you CAN do something to make this holiday magical for your kids IF you take the time to think about what you’re going to do, and plan it out ahead of time.

Need a few suggestions?

If your kids are younger you could make homemade Christmas ornaments or gifts. You can have a gingerbread house or cookie decorating contests. You could go sledding or Christmas caroling.

If your kids are older, you could make your own “Jeopardy” games based on fun family facts. (HINT: Including fun facts about things your kids did/said in the past will make them feel special!)

You can also ask your kids for ideas about new things THEY would like to try. If your kids are teenagers, getting an answer to your question may take a bit of persistence. But if you’re willing to ask, and keep asking, you may be surprised by what you learn.

The bottom line is that there a million ways to create magical moments. It just requires a little work and a lot of creativity!

Grateful, smiling African American woman reaching her hands to the sky

BONUS TIP: Even When You're Going Through a Divorce During the Holidays, Practice Gratitude!

Gratitude is the antidote to anger and fear.

No matter how difficult this holiday season may be for you, you have SOMETHING to be grateful for.

For starters, you’re alive. Hopefully you’re healthy. Your kids are alive and healthy. Chances are that you have a roof over your head and food in your belly. The sun still shines on your face.

We take all of those things for granted. Yet they are all huge gifts.

You can change your mood in an instant if you focus on what you HAVE during the holidays instead of on what you lack.

Take a few minutes to think about all of the blessings that are in your life right now. Feel thankful for each one of those things.

While your holidays this year may not go down in history as the happiest time in your life, they also don’t have to be your worst nightmare either. By being grateful for the blessings you do have, you can transform what could have been a miserable and pathetic holiday season into a testimony to the strength of your spirit.

If you spend your Christmas being grateful for everything you have, will your holiday magically become merry and bright

Probably not.

But it will be better. And, when you’re going through a divorce during
the holidays, sometimes, “better” is good enough.

Infographic with 12 Tips to Survive Divorce During the Holidays


This blog was originally published in 2018 and updated on December 13, 2021.

Head shot of Karen Covy in an Orange jacket smiling at the camera with her hand on her chin.

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches high net worth professionals and successful business owners to make hard decisions about their marriage with confidence, and to navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about decision-making, divorce, and living life on your terms. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


coping with divorce, dealing with divorce, divorce blog, divorce tips

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