The holiday season can be stressful for any family, but it can be especially difficult for anyone experiencing his/her first holiday season after a divorce.
The holidays were once a merry occasion for family and togetherness. Or perhaps they were a time of stress and obligations — a load you shared with your partner. Either way, the activities and holiday gatherings you once experienced as a couple now seem daunting. They can also be confusing. Who gets to go to which gathering? Who gets to make sugar cookies with the children? How will I survive the family party now that my spouse and I have parted ways? Do I still owe the ex-in-laws gifts and holiday cards? The list goes on.
If the emotional scars are fresh, recovering at this time of year can be especially challenging. Some are not allowed the luxury of mourning their divorce in their preferred way, as the holidays overwhelm us with friends and family, pies await baking, and gifts need wrapping. Despite how much you might want to, sitting out the holidays this year is not an ideal option.
Celebrating the holidays solo can bring great cheer if you let it. It only takes a positive outlook, careful planning, and realistic expectations. A helpful list of tips wouldn’t hurt either.
1. Set realistic expectations.
Divorce is a major life change. Your responsibilities have changed, your financial situation has changed, how you spend your free time has changed, etc. Before you do anything, factor these changes into your plans for the holiday season. This will help alleviate stress and eliminate surprises.
2. Reach out to family and friends.
It’s okay to ask for help or talk things though. Your loved ones are probably as busy as you are, so do not hesitate to reach out if you need a little extra help getting through the holidays. Don’t wait for someone to read your mind or appear at your door with a festive casserole. Also, everyone deals with divorce in his/her own way. If you leave people guessing, they might not get it right. The point is to communicate to get whatever support, comfort, or feedback you need. It will give you the closeness and togetherness to which you have grown accustomed this time of year.
3. Don’t spend the holidays alone.
Hibernating is not an option, particularly if you have children (and even if your ex has them for the holidays). Hiding away as the days pass you by is simply punishing yourself. Alone time can be very therapeutic, but it does the mind good to make an effort to go out and spend some time with others. Try not to spend too much time alone with your thoughts, and do not avoid family and friends. Fill the holiday months with loved ones to avoid reflecting on your broken marriage and what could have been.
You want your first post-divorce holiday to consist of fun and celebration surrounded by loved ones to give you a taste of years to come. Opening up just a little bit to your newly single life can give you a new perspective.
4. Get into the holiday mood.
Decide what you love above all else during the holiday season and figure out a way to get more of it. Whether it is giving gifts, decking the halls, gazing at Christmas lights, going caroling, preparing a family meal, or drinking eggnog by the fire. Set a course for happier holidays by doing the activities that put you in the holiday mood. Don’t feel like you need to steer clear of activities you once did specially with your ex-spouse — make them your own. Are you a cookie-decorating fanatic? Decorate more cookies than ever before this year.
5. Make a New Year’s resolution.
This past year has had its share of disappointments. Leave the court dates and divorce-related tension behind you. Join a gym, meet new people, revive an old hobby, and get yourself back out there.
6. Fend off those Ghosts of Christmas Past.
Try not to wallow in the usual nostalgia of the holidays. Make new traditions tailored to your new life. Do not allow holiday-themed memories — happy or sad — to haunt your future. Skip the annual visits to destinations where you created memories with your ex-spouse. Create fresh memories rather than reminisce on old ones.
7. Plan ahead.
Make preparations for your ideal holiday season. Happy holidays require planning under any circumstances, but especially this year. It might be the most important thing you do in these uncertain times. Plans don’t have to be elaborate. They can be as simple as replenishing the candy dish with themed goodies. Figure out what you want to happen and what you don’t want to happen this season, and make it so.
8. Take care of yourself.
Divorce is exceedingly stressful, especially when right before the holidays. Stress leaves you susceptible to common colds and bugs — things that could prevent you from suitably enjoying the holidays. Allow yourself to recuperate. Take care of yourself. Get your flu shot!
9. Work together with your ex-spouse for the sake of your children.
If there is one thing you and your former spouse will always have in common, it’s your children. The divorce is between you and your ex, not them. Allow the children the holidays they always celebrated. This holiday season can be just as wonderful for your children if you and your ex-spouse work together towards a shared goal. Find a way to make the most of the holidays for everyone involved.
10. Create new traditions.
A new family dynamic comes with new holiday traditions. Make new traditions that are uniquely yours. Try something fun and new.
11. Make this year less about the “stuff”.
If Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas taught us anything, it’s that the holidays come just the same without all the stuff. Giving and receiving gifts is a pretty big part of any holiday season. The divorce might have left you in a new or unfamiliar financial situation. Perhaps you are less able to give than before. They say, “it’s the thought that counts.” Prioritize thoughtfulness over glamour and expense.
12. Focus less on yourself and more on others.
Another sure way to appreciate this holiday season is to give back to the community. Focus on those less fortunate. Perhaps you need reminding that going through a divorce is not the unluckiest of circumstances. You might look into volunteering at a soup kitchen, or donating clothes and toys to a charity, or assisting with a food drive to allow needy families to enjoy the same holiday feast you might not have realized you at times take for granted. Give joy to those less fortunate. It will allow you to forget your troubles, and help you realize what you have so that you can appreciate it even more.
13. Count your blessings.
Do not let yourself get caught up in what’s different this holiday season. If anything, think about the positive differences. Maybe you are now free from the annual bout of bickering with your former mother-in-law about how to best prepare the green beans at Thanksgiving.
Things could be worse. No matter how bad the break up was, there are plenty of things for which to be thankful. Try to remember that divorce is both an end and a beginning.
Your divorce should not keep you from properly embracing the spirit of the season. Have a happy and healthy holiday.
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