There is no season more polarizing than the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. For some, it is eagerly anticipated as they welcome the time with family and tradition. For others, it is a season filled with dread, as it has an uncanny ability to highlight what we do not have. For those in transition from one life to another, from partnered to single, from big family to small, it can be a tricky season to navigate but a little effort and reframing can go a long way. The following are some tips for the divorced and separated that can can help you reclaim your holiday rather than hiding from it.
Let Go of the Way it Was
It will not be the way it was before. Don’t even try to make it stay the same. It is an exercise in futility. But here is the most important part – just because it is different does not mean it cannot be just as good. Or even better.
We resist change. It’s normal. We prefer things to stay the same rather than to venture into the unknown. Change is scary but it also means that the rules have been lifted.
If you have kids, this is a good conversation to have with them. Let them know that the season will not be the same. Remind them of other changes in their lives that were scary and unfamiliar at first but that turned out to be good – the birth of a sibling, the change of a grade, the move into a new home. You are their model for how to handle change. Wear it well.
Put Yourself on a Media Diet
Sometimes I think that the Christmas ads and movies have to be sponsored by the drug companies that make antidepressants. There is nothing so disheartening as to constantly compare your life with the saccharine-sweet images of perfection that bombard us ever winter.
It’s impossible to avoid them all but you can limit your exposure. Put down the Pintrest. Walk away from Facebook. Record your TV shows and avoid the commercials. I would not, however, recommend wearing a blindfold at Target. You might accidentally purchase a reindeer sweater.
Consciously choose to read and watch and listen to things that build you up. That remind you of what is really important. That make you feel good about your life.
Give it Away
There is no better way to shut down a pity party than to give to others. If you are unanchored during the holidays, it is a perfect opportunity to volunteer. You can find opportunities at your local churches, through a Meetup group or through a local charity. Inquire at a nearby hospital or senior center. There is always a need for volunteers during the holidays. If you don’t like the idea of being around people, volunteer to help out at an animal shelter. Make or wrap gifts to send to children or troops. You can touch others lives even if you never leave the house and that connection will help to make the holiday better for both of you.
Create New Traditions
Try to see this as an inspiring time to create new traditions. The sky is your limit. Who says that Thanksgiving has to mean a formal turkey dinner? Where is it written that Christmas must occur around a tree? After my parents split, my mom decided that Thanksgiving was meant to be carried out in a campground, a tradition that Brock and I uphold today. I know of other families or individuals that take trips. Some redecorate. By starting a new tradition, you are staking claim on the holiday, controlling it rather than letting it dictate how you will feel.
Reschedule the Holiday
For those of you in the difficult position of not having custody of your kids on the holidays (whether every year or every other), this can be a powerful tool for you if you know how to use it. Use the calendar to your advantage. We often receive more happiness from the anticipation of an event rather than the event itself. If you do not have your kids on Christmas, reschedule your holiday (and remember, you can make it whatever you want) for a few days or weeks later. This gives you something to look forward to when your ex has the kids and capitalizes on the inevitable letdown that kids have after the frenzy of the holiday.
I have had the wonderful experience of being “adopted” into various homes over the years to celebrate the holidays. The invitations were usually offered after the usual “What are your plans for Christmas” exchanges. I am so thankful for the families that included me over the years. Yes, sometimes I felt like the odd one out, but mostly I just felt loved and supported. There are most likely families in your life that would happy to extend an invitation to you. Just be open and willing.
Brock and I now are able to be the home for other Christmas “orphans.” If you are in a position where you can have people over, look around you for others that may not have a place to go. Ask them. And remember, you can create your own traditions. In our home, we tend towards Mexican lasagna and martial arts videos. Not quite traditional, but quickly becoming tradition:)
Spontaneity and Silliness Are Your Allies
This is a great time to practice saying yes. Yes to new opportunities. Yes to smiles. Yes to chances. Don’t take it or yourself too seriously. Get out of your head and just be. I recommend doing something you suck at to encourage the giggles. For me that’s not too hard. Ice skating or anything requiring a downhill usually does the trick. It’s hard to be morose when you’re constantly falling on your butt.
Embrace the Solitude
All of that being said, there is no way around the basic truth. Those first few holidays without your partner can be horribly lonely. Isolating. It’s a bitter reminder of what you had and what no longer exists.
Face the loneliness and then, go one further, and embrace the solitude.
Some of my most powerful and spiritual experiences have been in those moments. Those solo hikes through empty woods. Those isolated drives insulated from the rest of the world. Those moments in a crowd where I seemed to be the only one without a mate.
Feel the power within yourself. Recognize that you can chose how you want to feel and you can create a holiday season that is meaningful for you.
Even if it includes awful reindeer sweaters.