There is no way to sugar-coat it. Surviving divorce and 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 days of Christmas Tips to help make your holidays bright, even when you are feeling pretty dim about them.
12 Days of Tips for Surviving Divorce and the Holidays
On the 12th day before Christmas: Plan Ahead.
If you and your ex haven’t figured out when the kids will be with each of you for the holidays, do it now! Waiting until the very last minute to set up your kids’ holiday and school break schedule will just add more stress into all of your lives.
You also need to plan, not only when the kids will be with each of you, but how they will get back and forth between places during the holidays. It’s one thing to agree that the kids will go from one home to another at 3:00pm; it’s quite another to decide who has to leave in the middle of an extended family gathering to go get them.
Finally, if your kids are past toddler age, make sure that you include them in the planning process. Chances are, your kids already feel dis-empowered by your divorce. Including them in holiday planning gives them a voice, and a chance to feel like a part of something again. It gives them the opportunity to be heard. It also gives you the ability to connect with your kids by learning what is important to them.
On the 11th day before Christmas: Forget About Perfection.
Striving to create “the perfect holiday” is the surest way to have an awful one. Plus, what is a “perfect” holiday anyway? Is it one where everyone sits around a sparkling Christmas tree happily sipping eggnog and singing Christmas carols? What planet does that happen on?
Instead of going for “perfect,” try planning just to have a happy holiday. At the same time, give yourself permission to have an unhappy holiday if that is what ends up happening.
Sometimes, even when you do everything in your power to make a holiday wonderful for your children, the day bombs! When that happens, it is easy to drag yourself (and your kids) down in the dumps about it. Just remember, not every holiday in everyone’s life is perfect.
On the 10th day before Christmas: Focus on the Big Picture.
I know this is another one of those “easier said than done,” pieces of advice. But, ask yourself: what did you do 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.
Yes, 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!
On the 9th day before Christmas: Reign in your Expectations.
The trouble with the holidays is that all of us bring our own ideas of what they “should” be. We should be happy. We should give and get the perfect gifts. We should bake cookies. We should have glorious gatherings with our complete families and extended families and everyone should get along perfectly.
Where do all of these “should” come from? Norman Rockwell? 1950s television shows? Your parents? Who says that the idea you have in your head of how your holiday “should” be is the only way, or even the best way, to experience a holiday?
The more you “should” all over yourself, the worse you are going to feel. For once, just this year, try forgetting about what you “should” do and what the holidays “should” be, and try to enjoy what “is” … no matter what “is”!
On the 8th day before Christmas: 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 your divorce 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 spouse/former spouse. Make sure they invite your ex to their school holiday celebration (if parents are invited) or 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.
The truth is that, no matter what you think of your ex, s/he is still your child’s parent. Encouraging a good relationship between your child and your ex is not only going to be good for your child, but it may make dealing with your ex in the future just a little bit easier.
On the 7th day before Christmas: Let go of guilt.
Vow to make this holiday season a “guilt free” zone. That means you do your best to let go of your own guilt. You also avoid doing things just to make your ex feel guilty. (If you can’t manage that for the entire holiday season, at least aim for a few guilt free days.)
Pay attention to the voice in your head. When you hear yourself being critical, or blaming yourself for ruining your kids’ holidays, or telling you how pathetic you are, interrupt your inner dialogue! Thank the voice in your head for sharing. Then re-focus yourself on something positive and move on.
Is letting go of your guilt (and not “guilting” your ex) easy? Of course it’s not. But, feeling guilty does nothing but suck the joy out of your holiday season. It doesn’t change your circumstances. It doesn’t make you feel better. It doesn’t help you heal. So, this season, do your best to ditch the guilt. (Just don’t heap more guilt on yourself if you mess up and find yourself feeling guilty from time to time anyway!)
On the 6th day before Christmas: Get Back to Basics.
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 you can’t afford makes you feel like an even bigger failure than your divorce. 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.
On the 5th day before Christmas: Ditch the Drama.
This holiday season, try to spread peace instead of engaging in conflict. (Yes. This one is tough, especially if you have a high conflict ex. But, for your own sanity, as well as your kids’ happiness, do as much as you can to calm the conflict.)
How do you minimize drama? First, nail down as many details of the holiday planning that involves your kids in advance as you can. The more you plan in advance, the less there is to fight about later. If you have a high conflict ex, try to avoid “face time.” Communicate via email. Avoid fighting in front of your kids.
Remember also that, if either you or your ex is drinking, the chances that you will end up in a holiday battle increases enormously. Plan your interactions for early in the day, before the alcohol is flowing! It is better to avoid a confrontation that will ruin everyone’s holiday than it is to put yourself in a situation that will require you (and your spouse) to exhibit a level of self-control that just might be beyond you this year.
On the 4th day before Christmas: Cut Yourself Some Slack.
Take time to be kind to yourself. Do something that makes you happy, maybe something you haven’t done for years and years. During the time that you don’t have your kids, plan an activity for yourself that you will enjoy. Read a good book. Watch a movie or sporting event that your spouse never wanted to see.
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. Being with other people can help you feel the human connection that all of us needs.
Make peace with the fact that this is probably not going to be the best holiday season 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 to wallow in negativity.
On the 3rd day before Christmas: Keep it Simple.
Less is more. 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 overwhelmed than ever.
Be selective about what you do. Scale back on the holiday traditions that don’t give you joy. If sending out Christmas cards makes you crazy, don’t send them! If you just don’t have it in you to attend a dozen Christmas parties, attend one and see how it goes. Give yourself permission to celebrate the holidays as quietly or differently as you want this year.
Focus on doing only those things that delight you and your kids. The more lavish and complicated you try to make this holiday season, the more stress you invite into your life.
On the 2nd day before Christmas: Create a Great Experience for Your Kids.
You can celebrate your own holiday time in whatever way suits you, but if you have kids, do everything you can to make sure their holidays don’t suck. Put in the time to create at least one magical moment for your kids. Develop some new tradition. Decide that you will make this holiday the best one your children have ever had to date – even if it is very different from the holidays of your past.
“Creating a great experience” does not mean “buy your kids everything they want.” Overcompensating by buying your kids extravagant presents won’t make the holiday great. It will likely just spoil the kids and put you in debt. Focus on the experience you give your kids, not the stuff you buy them.
Finally, creating a great experience for your kids means keeping your holidays peaceful. Resist the urge to fill your children’s heads with thoughts of how they are suffering because your ex wanted a divorce. Don’t blame your ex for not paying support, or not giving you the money to have a great holiday. Focus on what have. Don’t dwell on what you don’t have.
On the 1st day before Christmas: Don’t Forget About You.
Yes, Christmas is for kids, but aren’t we all kids at heart? Obviously, if you have kids, you’re going to want to do what you can to create the best holiday possible for them. But don’t forget about you, too!
If your ex, or soon-to-be- ex, has the kids on Christmas day this year, (or if you don’t have kids at all) instead of sinking into a depression deeper than the Grand Canyon, take the opportunity to do something special for yourself.
Buy yourself a really cool present. Or, do something you wouldn’t normally do, like spend two hours in the bathtub with a glass of champagne and a plate of your favorite appetizers. Or, take a long walk in woods. Or simply, allow yourself the time to slow down. Whatever it is, put something on the calendar NOW, and do it just for you.
On Christmas: Practice Gratitude.
No matter how difficult this holiday season is for you, I promise you that there are millions of people living in third world countries who would gladly change positions with you right now. 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 sometimes, “better” is good enough.
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