When I was a child, I loved everything about the winter holidays. Magical things happened. I was filled with excitement, love, and innocence. As I grew up, married and had children, my passion for the holidays remained intact. Even though there had always been struggles within my marriage, I could find bliss in the celebration and beauty of the season.
During the final years of my marriage, I invested even more effort to continue the wonderful holiday traditions that we’d always enjoyed. But as my husband and I reached our final descent into divorce, I started to become tired. I really just wanted to coast for a while. I felt like I needed time off to sleep or cry or just process things.
Surviving the divorce was a far bigger undertaking than I could’ve ever imagined. And going through a divorce while creating Christmas magic for my four children felt like too much. My goal of accomplishing both with a smile on my face seemed like a daunting task. Does it ever feel like pretending you are OK, that everything is OK, is too much to ask? Like it just takes too much energy to keep up the facade?
It came down to the fact that my children were somehow still incredibly excited about the impending holidays, and I didn’t want to see any more pain and confusion on their faces. I reflected for a while and came up with a “duh” realization. We were still a family, right? Maybe we had a new definition of family, but we were most certainly still a family. Plus I have always believed that focusing on my goals and on gratitude is the most successful approach (although that can be much easier said than done). Honestly, though, I could see that not only could the kids benefit from some happy holidays, I could too. So I took a deep breath and dug deep.
These are the ten ways to survive the holidays while going through a divorce:
1. Keep beautiful traditions alive. The rituals that had worked for us were not to be overlooked. They had fed our soul in the past and would do so again that year. We had always used our fav outdoor family picture from over the summer to create a Christmas card that would be mailed out to loved ones. What I thought would be an embarrassing reminder that I was getting divorced ended up becoming the perfect way to remember that we were still a family.
2. Those traditions that didn’t work? Kick them to the curb! This is a great time for positive changes. When my in-laws had celebrated Christmas with us in the past, we were always required to open presents in a certain order at a certain pace. Those days are over.
3. Try to create at least one NEW tradition this year. On Christmas Eve, we filled two cars with family and caravanned throughout the neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights. The kids wore pajamas and slipped into bed as soon as we got back. We decided to keep this tradition. Simple, free and fun. I recommend bringing walkie-talkies in both cars. It adds to the excitement.
4. Meet new people. I reached out to a friend that I hadn’t talked to in ages. Not only did she help get me out of the house, she introduced me to a new circle of friends. I’ll always adore my long-time friends, but it was wonderful to meet some new smiling faces as well.
5. Go on a vacation. Holiday gatherings can be wonderful unless you’re in serious need of alone time. If that’s the case, give yourself a break and get away from it all. You get bonus points if you select a destination that promotes healthful lifestyles or spirituality. On one trip, I went to a Salt Spa in Williamsburg, VA where they had salt caves and salt flotation tanks. Total rejuvenation!
6. Meditation. This was instrumental in helping me get centered and find peace.
7. Massage. Two family members gave me gift cards for massages because they knew that I could benefit from some down time. And I truly believe in the healing power of human touch.
8. Time with family. Take care of yourself by having alone time when you need it, but try not to avoid family gatherings altogether. Hopefully, our families are a source of unconditional love. I remember chatting face-to-face with a couple cousins I’m rarely able to see. They provided warmth, understanding, and support, and they continue to do so from afar. It has been so therapeutic.
9. Reflection. If you don’t already, this is a perfect time to begin journaling. Start writing down your thoughts and emotions about everything. I went through two phases of journaling, each incredibly helpful. During the first phase, I expressed all of my pain and frustrations, and I tried to exercise it ALL. During the second phase, I wanted to have closure, extend forgiveness, and make intentions for what I wanted in the future. This is also great for those things you need to get off your chest, and for whatever reason, you can’t do it in person.
10. Let it go (the best you can for now). If you’re willing to let go of anger and resentments, the holidays are the perfect time to do so. I’m not saying we should choke down the pain and keep going like nothing has happened. We are all entitled to mourn and express genuine feelings. However, if we can reach a point where we’re no longer willing to let our pain or another person have such a strong grip on us, we can live healthier lives. We can choose to keep all the wisdom we’ve gained and move forward with an open heart. This can certainly be a process, so be patient with yourself.
While balancing a divorce with the holiday season, I tried to focus on what was most important to me. It was time to remind my loved ones how much they meant to me, and I was determined to learn how to survive the holidays and keep the holidays happy and light for my children. They deserved that. They also deserved to have a happy, healthy mom. Even though they might not have realized it at the time, they wanted and needed their mom to be OK more than they needed any present. So that had to come first.
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