The first holidays after a divorce can be particularly hard and stressful on everyone in your life, including yourself, your ex, your children, your in-laws, family, and friends. New rules are being created about where to be, who to be with, and how to behave. Here are five things that helped me after my divorce, and may help you, as well.
Allow everyone to grieve and mourn the holidays of the past. Divorce is a kind of death: of unfulfilled expectations, or the family unit we used to be. All change is loss. Don’t try to pretend that the pain isn’t there. Allow your kids to talk about the past, acknowledge it, and move forward to now and how you’ll build your new future. And do the same for yourself. It's like trying to ignore the elephant in the room when everyone knows it's there. Accept it, deal with it, and allow the pain to dissipate. Try to navigate the fine line between acknowledging and honoring your existing traditions and creating new ones that reflect the changes in your life.
Focus on what you and your children have rather than what you’ve lost. Make a gratitude list and encourage your kids to do the same. Add to it every day! Revenge is not sweet. Forgiveness, if you can be there, is a gift you give yourself. Keeping your thoughts positive will benefit everyone. Focus on the joys of the season and the people you care about. If you have some alone time, gift yourself a new, snugly robe, soft slippers, and settle down with a new book, a glass of wine, or a movie - whatever you like.
More is not always better. With budgets that may be tighter now, don’t dig yourself a hole that will be hard to climb out of in January with extravagant purchases that you can't really afford. If you have time, make special gifts for friends and family. This can be shared time with your children if you make holiday treats together. My daughter and I made all-natural fruit treats using dried fruit, almond butter, whole nuts, and flaked coconut. Delicious - and our art project was wrapping them in waxed paper and colored foils. A handful in a bright holiday mug makes a lovely gift; a larger quantity in a pretty bowl with a bow is another option.
Use this time to create memorable new experiences for both you and your children. Do something different. Go ice-skating, if the weather allows, or take a walk around the neighborhood after dark to enjoy all the holiday lights. Make something together: create new ornaments, baked treats, table decorations, or experiment with new holiday recipes. Take lots of pictures of your new holiday creations. Experience the new shape of your family as everyone adjusts.
Try to avoid some of the usual rushing around to allow for some quiet time. Be thoughtful. Choose your holiday invitations carefully, and try not to over-book or over-indulge. If you always hosted a major holiday bash, perhaps you want to continue it, but ask family or friends to co-host or help. Think about what will support you and your kids best during this time of transition.
As you well know, divorce is a long process. My therapist friends tell me it usually takes two years for people to "get over" their divorce, which includes two birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases/Chanukahs, and New Year celebrations. Sometimes it’s longer… The first holidays are hard but once you get past this one, it will get easier. Really!