No matter what you celebrate – Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice – or whether you celebrate anything at all, this time of year can be especially hard for divorced moms. If it’s your first holiday season after divorce, or the first holiday without the kids, you may be wondering how you’ll survive.
Take heart. Countless other divorced moms have made it through, and you will, too.
Here’s a four-part survival guide to get you through your first solo holidays.
- Part 1: Acknowledge, Accept, Reframe
- Part 2: Plan and Communicate
- Part 3: Carry On with Kindness
- Part 4: Reunite and Celebrate
Part 1: Part 1: Acknowledge, Accept, Reframe
Start by acknowledging the reality of the situation and how you feel about it. If you’re sad or angry, let yourself feel it and acknowledge it. If you’re relieved and looking forward to some time alone, acknowledge that without guilt. If you feel stuck in negative feelings, try writing them down. Or talk them out with a friend or professional (not your kids). Set a time limit (maybe an hour the first day, with decreasing amounts of time over the course of a week until you get to 5 minutes or less a day).
Be honest and realistic about the fact that you’ll be spending the holidays without your kids. Don’t avoid reality or deny it. And don’t fight to change it either. You don’t have to like it, but it will be easier for you and your kids if you accept what is. For more on acceptance, try some of the exercises in the Breadwinner Mom’s Guide to Making Peace with Divorce (download your free copy here) or explore the work of Byron Katie.
See if you can find at least one positive in the situation; ideally look for 3 or more positives about holidays without the kids. These can be really small things (e.g., sleeping in on Christmas morning) or bigger pleasures or reliefs (e.g., no rushing between relatives’ homes for the holiday meal, not having to assemble toys in the wee hours of the morning). If you’re like most divorced moms running from dawn until well after dark, maybe a few days of rest will let you recharge and take good care of yourself.
Part 2: Plan and Communicate
Once you’re in an accepting frame of mind, take some time to plan, both on your own and with your kids if they’re old enough to participate in a conversation or two. With the kids, acknowledge the difficulties and ask for their input on how they’d like to celebrate the holidays with you. Pick a day when you’ll celebrate, if you choose to do so, and let them know when that will be. One single mom and her adult children pick a day when they can all be together and celebrate the holidays then. This year it’s January 18th.
Now is the time to throw out old traditions you didn’t like and create new ones for yourself and your kids. Let your imaginations run wild, and have fun. Try a Secret Santa among the kids. Adopt a family with kids around your kids’ ages, and let them help shop for gifts. Bake fudge or fruit cake. Have pizza for dinner instead of turkey.
It’s important to let them know you’ll be okay while you’re away. The kids might be concerned about you and wonder if you’ll be lonely or bored. Talk about when you might connect by phone – how often, what times of day. And reassure them that you’ve planned for your time while they’re gone so they don’t worry. Tell them you’ll be sending happy thoughts their way; let that be your gift to them (and yourself) while they’re gone.
For yourself, think about what you’ll do during the time your kids are away. Create some structure, but don’t over schedule. Mix time with friends and family with alone time, so you won’t be sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself. You may even want to make a daily schedule. Try something new. Do some dreaming and visioning for the future. If you’re really down in the dumps, be of service to someone else – an elderly neighbor who lives alone, the widow who lost her husband this year, a soup kitchen, the hospital, an animal shelter…the needs are many, and you can make a big difference for someone else.
Some gatherings may be too painful right now, so consider party and dinner invitations in advance, and let family and friends know your plans. It’s absolutely okay to take care of yourself instead of trying to pretend things are normal or doing things to please others, especially in the early years after divorce.
Part 3: Carry On with Kindness
Be kind to yourself at all times.
Pay attention to how you feel as you carry out your plans over the holidays. Wherever possible, choose the thought or action that brings you the most peace. After all, we usually pray for peace on earth this time of year, and where better place to start than with yourself? If that means changing your mind and attending a party because you don’t want to be alone, or leaving early if the festivities are too much to handle, do it.
Practice being kind to yourself over the holidays rather than beating yourself up. Remember it’s normal for your feelings to shift from moment to moment. Just acknowledge them as they arise and let them go.
If you talk to your kids while they are away, be kind to them, too. Don’t dwell on how much you miss them, and don’t make them feel bad for you. It’s hard on them, too, even if they’re having a good time.
Part 4: Reunite and Celebrate
When your kids come back, savor the reunion. You’ll appreciate them all the more for the time you spent apart. Celebrate the holidays as you planned, but adjust as needed if you find things aren’t going well. For instance, if the kids are exhausted when they get back, or if they were overloaded with presents, you may want to reschedule your own celebration.
Finally, establish or strengthen your spiritual connection. After divorce, there are many empty places, especially when your kids won’t be with you for the holidays. You may not feel like celebrating, but if you take a few minutes to connect with the God of your understanding each day, the spirit of the season may grow within you. Here is a prayer for just these times. It’s a Christian prayer, but feel free to adapt it so it fits your own spiritual practice.
“I step into this season with an open heart, O God. As I wait for you,
surprise me with the hope of Christmas that will fill the empty places.”
Then be on the lookout for hope. It will help you survive the holidays without the kids.