Though we ultimately achieved a rhythm – they were fine with leaving town and I was relieved at a little time to myself – the way we managed for the first few years was by letting go of some of the old traditions, retaining other elements of our celebration, and doing what we could to forge new memories.
The first time I had to face the holidays without my kids? Especially since I don’t have other family?
But the first time they had to deal with Thanksgiving and Christmas unlike any they’d ever experienced?
I could read the confusion from one, while the other voiced his mixed emotions.
Every pleasurable routine they were used to – and in our household that included a mix of cultural and religious traditions, and lots of socializing informally with their friends – was suddenly out of whack.
Not only were their rhythms off (and mine), but I swear, even the family dog was depressed and somewhat confused.
The Winter Blues… and Then Some
Part of the problem?
I tend to get the blues as temperatures drop. I love to walk, I hate being cold, and walking in the cold is not my idea of a good time. Alone and cold? For me, that was bad news. Besides, for so many years I had wanted family… I finally had it, or so I thought, and I was plunged back to times of terrible loneliness before I married.
But here’s the thing about being a mother. Most of us instinctively put our kids first – especially when they’re young. And I know my little ones could feel my enjoyment in all the holiday commotion – the shopping, the decorating, the baking… so much baking – and whatever else was going on, it was a happy season!
I still recall the holidays “before” versus the holidays “after.” Despite the less than warm and cozy inner workings of my marriage, our family life was relatively smooth, and Thanksgiving and Christmas were filled with friends, good food, and in general, serious fun!
I missed it all, terribly. I can only imagine they missed it more.
I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t measuring up as a parent, unable to afford much (for one thing), but more importantly, the years the three of us were together, aware of missing the trip overseas to see grandparents and cousins on their father’s side.
Our little holiday seemed paltry in comparison.
The Lonely Season…
Once my ex remarried and acquired step-kids along with a wife, not to mention her family and a whole slew of friends in the area where he relocated, I would console myself with the fact that when my kids did spend the holiday with their dad, perhaps they once again had the sense of a full house and what I so missed… the feeling of belonging to a large, close-knit family.
Then again, adjusting to new step-siblings isn’t a given. Ah, the dramas of blending families…
Looking back, I imagine I wasn’t terribly convincing at being cheerful about not sharing the holidays with them, much less their father coming into town to pick them up.
If they were excited at seeing him, whatever the circumstances, they were also cranky at having to pack, grumpy about not being around for their friends, and slightly concerned about yours truly. And the last thing I wanted was to be an emotionally needy parent!
So I was dealing with knowing I’d be alone, dealing with their annoyance at leaving town, for a couple of years, listening to one of my kids complain (with good reason) about issues in his dad’s household. And of course, I was powerless to do a damn thing about any of it.
I don’t remember the details of the first time I dealt with Thanksgiving or Christmas alone. I’ve blocked it out. And no, I wasn’t invited elsewhere. The second time was much the same. The third time, a number of years after divorce, I recall enjoying my week “off.” I managed a little time away and benefited from the break.
Adjusting to a New Holiday Rhythm
But here’s the thing. Though we ultimately achieved a rhythm – they were fine with leaving town and I was relieved at a little time to myself – the way we managed for the first few years was by letting go of some of the old traditions, retaining other elements of our celebration, and doing what we could to forge new memories.
But I admit there were a lot of tears. Some were theirs; more were mine, generally behind closed doors. ‘Tis the season to be lonely, right?
Suggestions for getting through the holiday when your kids are gone?
- Try your best to put your children at ease.
- Reassure them that they’ll have fun and you’ll be fine.
- Let them know they can call you anytime. (Mind did…)
- Be flexible about traditions – let them know you can enjoy those they love a little early.
- Plan your time so you’re busy, so you can relax, so you can pamper yourself for a change.
- Read a terrific book! Take a soak in the tub!
This all sounds easy and great, doesn’t it…
Reality. Deal With It.
Not so fast. The reality is this – change can be painful for kids and likewise for adults. The holidays are a time when we imagine a close-knit family.
For me, I was living a situation of ongoing friction throughout the year, and the messy logistics of splitting holidays.
It was hard on the kids. It was hard on me. Like I said, even the dog was mopey. Some years the holidays weren’t holidays at all, but instead, empty days around the house where I wished the kids would be. And even more, I wished they were having fun where they were – even if it wasn’t with me.
While I adjusted to the stress and arguments that typically accompanied the worst years of splitting the season – and it lasted many years – the situation didn’t truly improve until my kids finally headed off to college.
Now they come home at Christmas – to our home – because home is where they want to be.
And I’m grateful for that. In itself, it’s a gift.