If you’re going through a separation or divorce this year, you’re probably dreading this holiday season. As much as they’re about great memories and traditions, the holidays are likely to stir up feelings of fear, stress and potentially even sadness.
I’ve been there. I went through a divorce with young children. And as an attorney, I’ve helped hundreds of individuals going through a divorce. Here are some tips to help you through your first holiday season as a separated/divorced family.
There are no two ways about it — this year will be different. It could be the first time that you’re apart from your children and without a significant other on a major holiday. Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, though. It just means that it’s not going to be the same as it was last year.
When it comes to your children, remember that your mood sets the tone for them too. Reassure them that this holiday can still be enjoyable. Keep conversations positive, encouraging and hopeful. While it may be a tough time for you, try not to place the burden of your emotions on them. As one therapist shared with a client feeling sad and nostalgic, “that’s your burden to carry, not the kids.” That said, be intentional and armed with a plan for how you’ll spend the first holiday apart.
For me, the hardest part of getting through the first holiday season was the first Christmas Eve and Christmas morning without the kids. However, I discovered that having the later part of Christmas can be just as fun and meaningful.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be for me to be at family gatherings without my children. Once I figured this out, I made a point to schedule plans with friends and coworkers. My friends and I started a Friendsgiving the day before Thanksgiving, had an ugly sweater holiday party and made other fun plans.
I can’t stress how important it is to make plans for yourself and not sit at home alone. If this is your first holiday alone and you’re not spending it with friends or family, here are a few ideas of how to spend the day:
While you may not have wished for the alone time, it can help you feel refreshed so that you can be the parent you want to be when your children are with you.
If there’s a way to maintain traditions for the children for the first year as a separated/divorced family, that’s probably best. For example, if Christmas dinner is always celebrated at one grandparents’ house, that should be considered, especially for the first year.
Families come in all shapes and sizes — and so do family traditions. When my children were concerned about whether Santa would know where to go, I let them know that Santa knows about all different types of families and that he can visit both Mom’s house and Dad’s house. What child doesn’t love two Christmas mornings, even if they don’t both happen on the 25th?
With most holidays, there are plenty of ways to celebrate that don’t fall on the day of the holiday. Don’t put so much emphasis on the specific date.
The episode “How to Handle Your First Holidays Following Separation” of my podcast, A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction, offers more tips on how to survive the holidays. The podcast is available on Apple, Spotify and other major podcast platforms.