My divorce became final the end of October. After nearly ten months of divorce negotiations, my children and I were about to spend our first holiday season without their father.
He had made the choice to move across the country to live with his girlfriend which meant he would spend no time during the holidays with his children.
On top of the adjustment we would have to make as a family of three instead of four, he wouldn’t be around to help his children navigate this new landscape.
I was in no mood to be jolly, but I owed it to my children to be the best mom I could be, in spite of how I felt. I owed it to myself to wring as much happiness out of the holidays as was possible, too. I did this by making sure our holiday schedule was packed with upbeat activities with friends and family.
I look back now and see that it was probably one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had. The effort we made to make it good, made it good.
Below I’m sharing some tips with you that have been important for not only myself but my children also when navigating the holidays after divorce.
20 Tips For Getting Through Your First Holiday After Divorce
1. Be patient
Even in the best of times, the holidays can be a bit hectic. However, when you’re celebrating the holidays for the first time on your own, they can feel more than hectic. They can feel overwhelming! You’ve got so much going on emotionally with your divorce that the added tasks, events and scheduling of the holidays can all be just a bit too much.
Be patient with yourself, your kids and the rest of your family as you navigate the holidays. This is new and different for everyone and a little patience will go a long way toward making your first holidays post-separation/divorce more enjoyable than you might believe they can be right now.
2. Be flexible
The holidays are about celebrating with family and friends and don’t HAVE to occur on only one specific day. Many of my clients who are celebrating the holidays for the first time as a single parent will get tied up with the idea that holidays can only happen on the official day marked on the calendar.
For example, it’s not unusual for them to think that Thanksgiving Day can ONLY happen on the fourth Thursday of November. However, with a bit of advance planning, you may decide that Thanksgiving will actually happen the Saturday before the fourth Thursday of November so you can celebrate it with your kids. Having an early Thanksgiving even has the added benefit of allowing you to avoid the crowd buying their last-minute turkey and fixings!
Think about it from your kids’ point of view too. Most kids love the holidays and having double the holidays – one with Mom and one with Dad – might be something the kids think is great!
3. Focus on others
Another way to enjoy the holiday season is to focus on those less fortunate than you. Now I get there are times when you feel like the most unfortunate person around, but you really can survive your divorce and the holidays by being willing to recognize that it could be worse.
You might want to consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or at a center that provides holiday “shopping” for needy families. I can guarantee that when you focus on providing joy for those less fortunate than you an amazing thing happens; you forget about your troubles and appreciate what you do have even more.
4. It’s not about the stuff!
Gift giving is often a big part of the holiday season. With separation and divorce, the funds available for gift giving are usually less than they were before. However, gifts don’t need to be purchased to be appreciated. Sometimes the gift of time and attention means more than any store-bought gift ever could.
5. Let happiness happen
For a lot of people going through divorce, it can seem strange to experience any emotion other than some form of upset. Divorce is an upsetting event that can be almost all-consuming. However, if you start to feel happy as a result of the holiday events, ENJOY the feeling! You deserve to be happy and enjoy the holidays just as much as everyone else does.
6. Reach out to family and friends
Almost everyone I know wishes someone could read their mind and offer help when it’s needed. On the other hand, I don’t know anyone who can read minds with any real reliability. The message here is if you need a little extra help to get your holidays to feeling merrier, be sure and ask for it. Don’t wait for someone to guess what you need because there’s a chance that they might not guess correctly.
7. Make new family traditions
With divorce so many things change. Some of these changes are not so comfortable, but some of these changes are good and might even be fun. What new family tradition can you introduce this holiday season to keep things fun?
When I got divorced, my new tradition was spending Christmas with my family. We had almost always spent Christmas with my in-laws when I was married to my first husband. I’ve had fun spending the holidays with my parents, siblings, and their families since then.
8. Nix the guilt
So many divorced parents feel guilty about how the kids’ holidays will be different. The thing is different doesn’t necessarily mean bad or wrong. Different is just different. If you nix the guilt and embrace the new way your holidays will be, then your kids will enjoy the holidays too. After all, if the kids are now having double the celebrations it’s worth making sure they’re having fun with you even if it is different.
9. Work with your ex in a cooperative manner for the kids’ sake
One of the things I always tell my clients is that their divorce is between them and their former spouse. The holidays can be a wonderful experience for the kids provided that’s the shared goal you and your former spouse have for them.
I know of one couple who have agreed for the kids’ dad to have them for the holidays because his parents are still around and hers aren’t. She celebrates the holidays with the kids at another time.
The result? Everyone’s able to make the most of the holidays!
10. Continue your traditions, but simplify them
You may have holiday traditions that are important to you, but they just are not possible now that you’re divorced. What can you do to tweak these traditions so that you can still have them?
For example, maybe you have had a holiday tradition of going skiing. If that kind of a trip isn’t possible this year, you may choose to do something else that captures the essence of the traditional ski trip. You may decide to play ski jumping on the Wii, have a marshmallow fight instead of a snowball fight and drink hot chocolate afterward. Let your creativity flow and I know you’ll be able to create a modified tradition this year that you’ll still enjoy.
11. Don’t spend the holidays alone
It can be tempting to crawl into a cave and hibernate during our first holidays alone – especially if your ex has the kids. However, I urge you to resist the temptation. There’s no reason to punish yourself, for that’s what hiding in a cave during the holidays is. I’m not saying that you don’t need time alone. You very well might. I’m just suggesting that instead of spending all of the holiday season alone, make an effort to go out and spend some time with others. I promise that you’ll get a different perspective on your first holidays as a single person if you open yourself up to even a little fun celebrating the holidays with others.
12. Take care of your health
The funny thing about the holiday season is that it coincides with the cold and flu season. This, along with the stress that accompanies divorce, makes you a bit more susceptible to catching a bug. So, take good care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, adequate exercise and good nutrition in addition to all the holiday goodies.
13. Give yourself a gift
This being the first holiday season post separation/divorce, chances are you won’t be receiving a gift from your ex. You probably won’t be buying them a gift either.
Since your gift giving list has decreased by at least one, why not add yourself to your list? If you do, you’ll be able to buy yourself something that you’ll truly enjoy this holiday season. (You may also want to make sure it’s not something that you’ll regret purchasing in the New Year when the payments for it start!)
14. Count your blessings
It’s easy to get caught up in what’s different this holiday season – in the negative sense.
If that’s happening to you, flip that upside down and count what’s different AND positive this holiday season. Maybe you don’t have to listen to your ex’s Uncle Jeremiah’s continual belching during the holiday meal or suffer through listening to the never-ending story of all your former mother-in-law’s aches and pains.
15. Lean on your faith
Whatever your beliefs are, you just might be able to find solace in your faith when you’re not feeling the “Ho Ho Ho!” in the holidays. For many, the holidays are a celebration of faith and spending some time remembering this might be just what you need to experience a bit more of the holiday spirit.
16. Plan ahead
The most important thing to have when you want something to happen at a certain time is a plan. Wanting to have happy holidays requires a plan too. The plans don’t have to be elaborate or come with a detailed timetable of when events must happen. But, by giving some thought to what you want to have happened and then doing what needs to be done will make it more likely you’ll have a happy holiday season.
17. Cultivate gratitude
Developing an attitude of gratitude does wonders for the way you view the world. This was one of the most important skills I developed when I got divorced. It helped me to be more positive and proactive about changing the things that needed to be changed not just at the holidays, but year-round.
What are you thankful for this holiday season?
18. Engage in more of what you love about the holidays.
People like the cooler weather, giving and receiving gifts, decorations. Whatever it is that you love most about the holiday season, figure out a way to get more of it. Once you do that, you’ll definitely have happier holidays.
19. Do more of what puts you in the holiday mood.
When I ask my clients this question I hear answers like shopping, parties, decorating, watching football, Christmas lights and caroling. The next question I ask them is “How can you do more of these and get even more enjoyment out of the holiday season?”
So, what activities put you in the holiday mood?
Now, how can you do more of these?
20. Be realistic
Your life is in the midst of a major change. For most people, separation and divorce bring increased responsibilities along with decreased financial means and free-time. Be sure and factor these facts in this holiday season. If you do, I’ll bet you’ll find it easier to be realistic with the expectations you have of yourself, your family and the holidays this year.