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 (and 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, and lonely, and sad. Or, maybe you are full of anger, resentment, or self-pity. That’s on top of being wildly stressed out about your divorce and the holidays.
No matter what you feel, one thing is certain. You are not exactly full of Yuletide joy.
Surviving divorce during the holidays is difficult at best. Here are 12 Tips to help make your holidays brighter, even if you’re feeling pretty dim about them now.
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, and send Christmas cards, and decorate every inch of the house, and buy your kids amazing and expensive presents, and decorate a 12 foot Christmas tree, and hang lights outside, and cook a Christmas meal that would make Martha Stewart jealous! Doing 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.
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.
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.
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 …
- … 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 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 would only do out of a sense of obligation.
I know it sounds corny, but simple things can bring you great joy. They also come with way less stress. That, in and of itself, is a blessing.
6. Focus on the Big Picture.
Yes, this is one of those “easier said than done,” pieces of advice. But, ask yourself what you did on Christmas in 1982? Not that old? Okay. What did you do on Christmas in 2002? Unless you have a memory like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” I bet you won’t be able to remember.
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!
7. Let go of guilt.
Nothing sucks the joy out of the holidays more quickly than guilt. And, not only are your guilty feelings a downer for you, but they bring down your kids, too.
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.)
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 ex as well. Put your own feelings aside and take your kids’ Christmas shopping so they can get a gift for your ex. Make sure they invite your ex to their school holiday celebration and other holiday activities. Show them that, regardless of how you may feel about your ex, you respect him or her as your child’s other parent.
Sure, if you and your ex are engaged in World War III, raising the peace flag (even just temporarily) may not be possible. At the same time, you might be surprised at what happens if you try
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 ex 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.
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 ex.) 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 ex 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 ex, have your “talk” via email, text, or parenting app.)
Finally, avoid consuming any alcohol until AFTER you’ve dealt with your ex for the day. 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!
During the time that you don’t have your kids, plan an activity for yourself that you’ll enjoy. Read 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. Even if you don’t necessarily feel like going out and celebrating the season, being with others (at least for a while) often helps take your mind off of your own pain. Get out of the house and go somewhere that you can see other people. Even just going to a coffee shop can 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 negativity.
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! (Sorry!) So starting early helps!
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. Or, you could make your own “Jeopardy” games based on fun family facts. There a million ways to create magical moments. It just requires a little work and a lot of creativity!
BONUS TIP: Even When You’re Going Through a Divorce During the Holidays, Practice Gratitude!
No matter how difficult this holiday season may be for you, millions of people living in developing countries would gladly change positions with you. While knowing that others are more miserable than you won’t change your own circumstances, it might help you put your situation in perspective.
No matter where you are, or who you are with, this holiday season, you have something to be grateful for. Instead of focusing on what you lack, focus on what you have. 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. 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 of 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.
Need a Christmas gift for yourself this season? There are 21 more holiday survival tips in this FREE E-Book DIVORCE DURING THE HOLIDAYS: YOUR SURVIVAL GUIDE! Just CLICK THE BUTTON below, and get your copy now!