Over four years ago, there was a restraining order in place against my ex-husband, I had changed the locks, I had informed all the schools of our situation. This was not, in any way shape or form, the life I had envisioned when I gave birth to my daughters and looked forward to our future as a family. And we were headed straight into the holiday season.
Looking back on it now, I think I got through the holidays out of sheer will--that I would do anything to protect my girls, and do anything to keep our lives as “normal” as possible. Here’s some of the tips I took with me, and still do my best to follow as we embark on a new holiday schedule as a blended family.
1. Letting Go
Even though I knew I had done the right thing for the safety and well-being of my girls, I had to “let go” of that illusion of “family.” We were never the picture perfect two parent, two kids, working parent family. Our house was full of pain and anger and fear, and even though I was now a one-parent family, that was okay. We can’t be the image of a Sears’ or Macy’s catalog, and even when we were married, it was a lie.
Let go of that idea that family equals two parents—yes that’s wonderful for families out there who are like that, but families of divorce or blended families are true families also. There’s no reason to justify or “make up” for the family that we find ourselves in—whatever combination that might be. As long as you fill your home with love and kindness, that is your beacon as you embark through the holiday traditions.
2. Holiday Traditions
So while I was alone, and on a fixed budget, I still trotted out my mother’s recipes for Thanksgiving, my grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe for Santa Claus. I figured out what I could afford and embarked on cooking and gifts—on a smaller scale. Even if it was just us three, I cooked a ginormous Thanksgiving spread (thank you to our local grocery store, who gave out coupons for free turkeys), and invited my best friend and her hubby over for the big T-day.
They helped fill our house with love and hugs, and I still got to include my mom and grandmother, the former who cannot travel due to her illness, the latter who is already in heaven, by cooking all the recipes they lovingly set down to paper. I invited DD2’s best pals over for cookie making for Santa, we hung our stockings up, I bought a tiny table top tree so at least our living room smelled of Christmas, even though I couldn’t afford a ginormous tree.
The kids didn’t care about how big the tree was, they decorated it with giggles as if it was a huge one. They didn’t care that I couldn’t cook a prime rib for Christmas dinner, that their presents and/or presents for their pals came from the dollar tree or the clearance aisle. They cared about waking up and that we were together.
3. Embrace the Grief
It’s okay, by the way, to fall apart here and there. Accept it. You can be the bravest single mom in the universe, and the pangs of what was lost and what could have been and what it was supposed to be will still floor you. Of course, you didn’t expect to be a divorced mom.
You believed the best in your life, in the best in your ex, but believing in someone and having that someone actually be good for you, are two separate journeys. You are here because you were brave enough to make a better life for yourself. And it’s okay to cry and be sad that it turned out to be this way. It sucks.
4. Embrace the Small Bits
The small bits of happiness, when they come, are like candles in the overwhelming holiday depression land. The neighbor who stopped by with a loaf of pound cake to say happy holidays. The tiptoe of your children in the pre-dawn hour to check if Santa was really coming, and the hurried stomping up the stairs to tell you that he ATE THE COOKIES! The laughter, while eating some of the other cookies.
Watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or my favorite, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, drinking hot chocolate. Checking on the little ones after they go to bed, their sleeping faces at peace, dreaming what little kids dream.
5. Accept Help
Well-meaning friends and family may offer their help or invitations, take them up on the offer! Surround your kids with as much friendship and love as you can. Do not be ashamed or think that you have to “pay them back.” (Or, if you happen to have people in your life who are bean counters, then saying a no thank you will be more effective in helping you--that last thing you need is MORE burdens in your world, and only you know your people best.) Drink a glass of wine with a friend. Cry on your mom’s shoulder.
Cry on your own shoulder. It’s okay to lean on people who love you. If you happen to have to deal with time-sharing over the holidays, do your best to fill your time away from your children with positive people who support you, or if you prefer alone time, some mom-pampering, something small, like a bubble bath or reading a favorite book.
6. Making Memories
Remember that while you are living through the holidays in a different way, shape or form that you hadn’t anticipated, you’re still making memories for yourself and your children. It’s hard to believe it, but years from now, you’ll look back and think, thank goodness I got through that time. Your kids may remember bits and pieces, my DD1 still remembers leaving reindeer food (glitter mixed with dry oatmeal) outside for Santa’s reindeer.
So do your best to let go, live in the moment, and remember you are making the best of a terrible situation, and even in these terrible situations, there are moments of joy. Hug yourself, be gentle with you and your kids. You are not alone! You’re on the path for creating a better, more positive life. And you can do it, even if on some days you feel like you can’t.
P.s. on January 2nd, drink a glass of wine (or three), and toast yourself that you got through it.
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