The holiday season is often stressful for all of us. When we look back, we often do so with a sentimental lens. However, we can also look back to holidays past where there were conflicts and tension – so much to do, with the shopping, the preparing, the wrapping, trying to please and to accommodate, as well as the disagreements and the squabbles.
There is a reason that the divorce rate goes up in January and February – the way we didn’t get along, the anxiety and tension with the ex, how you couldn’t resolve conflicts – spending so much time together highlighted your differences rather than brought you together.
Getting through the holiday season during or after a divorce can be more than challenging. The holidays are a time when you can really see how much your life is changing and has changed. Memories of holidays past can cause you to feel depressed and wondering if you will ever be able to look forward to the holiday season again.
The good news is you can enjoy the holidays by taking a positive approach, changing your mindset, and adopting coping strategies.
Here are eleven tips for making the most of the holiday season during and after divorce:
1. Look forward – plan ahead
Don’t wait until the last minute to decide what you will be doing for the holidays – put an action plan together so that you have something to look forward to. Having a plan in place is especially important if you are co-parenting. Figure out where you will go or who you will invite. Schedule time with friends (call them, hike with them, shop with them, etc.). There are many people that welcome the time to talk, visit, and have leisure and fun together.
2. Don’t spend much time looking back
It is easy to focus on the past. All of the memories, the holiday songs, all of the ways we have “referrals” to the holidays of the past. It is necessary to grieve what we have lost and won’t have this year. Grieving is part of the process. Watch out for how you can feel sorry for yourself. The self-pity that can creep in will make you miserable.
3. Get new “lenses”
The holidays often revealed the conflicts, the irreconcilable differences, and the ways in which partners were incompatible. We often hear that use of alcohol or other substances increases during the holidays and have a major effect on behaviors, attitudes and moods. Often the ex was not helpful shopping for presents, decorating the tree, putting up outdoor decorations, tidying up the house, or doing dishes and cleaning up after parties and festivities. Typically when a relationship is going “south,” there is a strain on the time together, resulting in anxiety and tension that put a damper on the holidays.
Also, look back and realize that the holidays were in many ways stressful because of all the extended family, often not getting along with the ex in-laws (at least one or more of them). Travel to visit those relatives during the holidays was often taxing, as well.
4. Adjust your expectations
Change is often difficult, so make the holiday season as simple and enjoyable as you possibly can. Remember, with divorce comes change, and that includes the holidays. The season will feel different, but different can be good. Be creative. You have the ability to celebrate the holidays any way you choose.
5. For the sake of the children
If you’re not on good terms with your ex, try your best to keep the situation cordial when dealing with them during the holidays, if only for the sake of your children. Agree to a ceasefire, and make sure you’re sticking to your co-parenting schedule to avoid any disagreements about who will get the kids on which holiday. Remember, any anger and resentment you feel toward your ex will affect your children, as well, so keep any bitter feelings in check around them so that they can enjoy the holiday season.
6. Create new traditions
Sentiment and tradition are hallmarks of the holiday season, but you may not be able to practice the traditions of your pre-divorce life. The solution: create new traditions! There’s no rule that says you have to do things the way you did in the past. Be adventurous and try something new, either with or without your kids.
7. Practice self-care
The holiday season is about giving to others, but don’t forget about yourself! Try to keep your diet as healthy as possible (although a few indulgences here and there are alright), and exercise regularly to relieve stress and anxiety. Some rest and good night’s sleep will go a long way to keeping your spirits up. Meditation, prayer, and journaling are also good ways to alleviate stress and make yourself feel better. A massage or day at a spa can be a wonderful gift to give yourself.
It’s easy to focus on what you had and no longer do. However, with some discipline you can (and need) to focus on what you have and can do. What is it that you GET to do, now that you don’t have to involve your ex? One teacher asked “What’s not wrong?” An attitude of gratitude will carry you through in a very positive way. What can you do today to make this the best possible day, the best possible holiday season, despite the challenges of an ending and a new beginning? Spend time journaling what you are thankful for.
9. You are not alone and don’t need to be
There are many people who are dealing with divorce – half of all first marriages end in divorce. Many people never get into a long term relationship. Don’t “normalize” being married. There are many in the same boat you are, and will be glad to have some company.
10. Helping others
Volunteering for a local nonprofit or community organization is a great way to give back, and it will make yourself feel better, as well. Help feed the hungry on Thanksgiving Day, or deliver holiday gifts to needy families. On a smaller scale, you can also help out a neighbor or shut-in, perhaps by running errands for them or sharing holiday treats. It may take a little courage to reach out to others, but the good feeling you will get will make it worthwhile.
Remember, the holiday season doesn’t have to be depressing – you have choices when it comes to how and where to spend it. Acknowledge your loss, practice gratitude, and look toward the future, and you’ll make it through the holiday season.
11. Don’t overcompensate
Often during and after divorce, single parents will go “overboard” in buying a lot of gifts and trying too hard to make up for that fact that it’s different from what it used to be. Often single parents “blow” their budget, and rack up a lot of debt. Simple can be wonderful. Quality time and fun activities are often more meaningful than a pile of gifts that can’t and won’t be fully appreciated.