Getting Through the Holidays during Divorce – Part 1 (the Adults)
Thanksgiving, Christmas or Chanukah are not going to be the same, so don’t expect them to be. Here are some tips for getting through the holiday season while your divorce is pending or the first year as a newly-single adult.
Wipe the slate clean – Divorce is as much about new beginnings as it is about endings. You now have the opportunity to celebrate the holidays the way you want to, not how you’ve always done or how the larger family expected you to. Maybe you hate turkey; eat a hamburger or veggie pizza instead. Maybe you can’t stand your wife’s brother and how he dominates every conversation on Christmas day. Now you don’t have to listen to him anymore. Maybe you are one of the rare persons who had picture-perfect family gatherings at every holiday and now you will be left out. Do something completely unexpected for yourself – go skiing, volunteer at a nursing home, do a Netflix watch-a-thon, paint the bathroom, etc. Spend the time in a way that distracts you from what you think you are missing or simply enjoy the time off work. The point is that you now control how you celebrate the holidays without having to accommodate your ex-spouse. There’s freedom in that notion, not all doom and gloom.
Focus on the real purpose of the holiday – We all lament the commercialization of the holidays. Take some time to think about why we celebrate these special days. Go back to the roots of these traditions and strip away the glutinous meals, tinsel decorations, and forced cheer. Simply your life and focus on what’s truly most important to you. Then focus on making the day special for someone else, if that helps you push through your own loneliness, sadness or fear. Lots of people hate the holidays because they feel like they’re missing out on what they’re supposed to experience. Why waste your precious energy wallowing about what you don’t have, and concentrate on what you do have? We all have more than we think we do when we remember we are alive, we have the power to change ourselves, and good things are around the corner if we seek them out.
Don’t over-spend – I can’t stress this tip enough. Many of my clients go crazy buying expensive gifts for their kids, relatives and friends in some kind of bizarre way to make up for shortfalls they perceive in themselves. Guilt, shame or depression are terrible motivating factors in spending money. Then the credit card bills arrive in January and it truly is time to feel guilty, shameful or depressed. Simple math says it costs more to maintain two households than one, and unless you have unlimited income (who does?), you probably dug yourself into a deep hole buying that six foot giraffe for your two year son or Prada purse for your sister. There is nothing wrong with telling your family and friends you love them and wish them all good cheer, but this is a tight year, the divorce is expensive, and you will not be exchanging gifts or only being giving modest presents. No one else is going to look out for your financial health, so give that gift to yourself and don’t feel bad about it. You’ll be acting responsibly.
Don’t over drink (at least not in public) – Alcohol flows freely during the holidays. It’s very tempting to have that extra glass (or three or four) of wine or beer. Maybe you’ll be tempted to take shots of tequila at the office party. You are transitioning to a new phase of your life. This is an excellent opportunity to create a new persona. Don’t make a fool out of yourself by getting sloshed and trashing your ex-spouse or ex-in-laws. People might cut your some slack if they know you’re going through a divorce, but they also may think, “Wow, what a drunken idiot; no wonder the marriage crashed and burned”.
Don’t ruin the holidays for others, especially your kids –Change is hard – very hard. It’s human to feel down when you think everyone else around you is all happy and jolly. It can be devastating to drop your kids off at Dad’s house on a holiday and go home to an empty apartment. You are going to have to get through this, and you will, but don’t drag down others in the process. Consider how awful your child would feel if you told them, “Have a great time at Daddy’s. I’ll miss you and be thinking about you every minute. I’ll be here, all alone, waiting for you to get back”. Talk about putting a damper on your kid’s spirits. You may think you would never say such things, but it does happen. Not with those exact words, but with body language, with weepy hugs and kisses at the visitation exchange, with endless texts to the children while they’re opening presents (What did he give you? What did he give his girlfriend?). Let your children enjoy their time with each parent as best they can without imposing your own feelings or hovering electronically or criticizing how your ex celebrates the day.