For many of us, divorce means alternating holiday parenting time with the ex and that likely means spending your some of the holidays alone without your kids.
I wish I could tell you that it’s OK, that it just means being flexible and celebrating on another day, that you'll get used to it but I can't. Even now, six years after my divorce, the major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are just not the same when my kids aren't home.
Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive. I’ve just spent Thanksgiving break alone: my eldest is now a college junior and was away with a friend and my youngest, a high school senior was with his dad visiting family. Being alone was a combination of divorce and the kids being older. I know I’m getting a preview of life as an empty-nester.
Learning from this, I have two strategies for coping with the Holidays
Plan Your Own Celebration
I have to confess that since I work for myself and am currently in product launch mode I did consider erasing Thanksgiving from the calendar this year and treating it the same as any other workday but it just didn’t feel right to do this.
I’m a pretty sociable person and I do believe in taking time out to celebrate certain special days. Pretending Thanksgiving wasn’t happening just seemed too bah-humbug. It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day so instead, I got out on my bike for an invigorating ride with a friend and then joined my friend and her family for turkey. And OK, I did do some work.
So my first strategy for surviving the Holidays without your kids is to plan how you will spend the day.
“Plan” for me means deciding at least, a couple of days ahead of time what I will be doing. I’m an organized person and I’m not good with spur-of-the-moment decisions. Feeling that I should be doing something on Thanksgiving and not having anything planned was making me feel anxious. Once I had a vague plan, I started to relax.
A key to observing a Holiday without your kids is to keep an open mind. You don’t have to follow the traditional activities for the day. It’s a great opportunity to do something different, visit somewhere you’ve been meaning to explore, put in some volunteer hours or even do a home project. It could also mean working a Holiday shift so your coworkers can with be their families.
If you're uncomfortable doing an activity on your own, check out Meetup.com for groups in your area. Not only will you being doing something you enjoy but you'll also be meeting new people and potentially expanding your social circle.
Plan Your Celebration With Your Children
My second strategy is to plan your celebration with your children. It may not be on the actual day but I’m a big believer in family traditions and I think it’s still important to mark the occasion together if at all possible.
This doesn’t mean planning the day as if it were Christmas Day for example, complete with stockings, church, and a full Christmas Day dinner but rather planning another celebration that works for your family.
Keep the parts that you all love, and about which the kids are excited and replace the parts that seem too much like work. And do get input from your kids … you may be surprised.
My parenting plan calls for my kids to be with their dad on Christmas Eve and then with me on Christmas Day and then the following year we switch the days. We both usually cook a big dinner similar to what we did while we were married. Well, over the summer my kids laid down their demands … “We’re not doing this two big meals anymore!”
It didn’t sound negotiable. I was surprised. I thought my ex and I had done well having avoided having two turkey dinners and how fun that our kids got to celebrate Christmas twice.
The real lessons here are about getting input from your kids and being flexible. I believe kids are never too young to start this and clearly, the older they get, the more say they’ll want! Giving them input and adjusting your plans to reflect at least some of this will help give your children a sense that they have some control over their lives and when their lives are governed by a court order, this is something that children of divorce often lack.
If you and your spouse are recently separated and haven't yet finalized your post-divorce parenting plans, this is a great opportunity to test out your draft agreement. Following it now gives you the chance to find the ambiguities and the parts that don't work well for your situation from everyone's perspective.
What do you see as the positives of post-divorce Holidays?
Mandy Walker is hosting a complimentary teleseminar, What You Need To Know About Preparing For Divorce, on Tuesday, December 10, at 7 p.m. ET. Find out more details here. Preparing for Divorce is one of five tracks in the affordable, self-paced online divorce coaching program, My Divorce Pal.