Question (from Facebook community): “The divorce has changed everything and I’m dreading the holidays. Any tips to get through them?”
I am coming up on my third holiday season not living with my spouse. The first one was difficult, to say the least. I remember giving my kids to their father for Thanksgiving, totally of my own accord without it being part of our mediation agreement. I was trying to be kind. And then I cried the entire way home. And, if I recall correctly, I sat at home and watched movies and felt sorry for myself. I’m a walking party, people.
Last year, I again gave the kids to their dad for Thanksgiving. (I should get a prize.) But this time, I had plans. I spent the afternoon with my favorite “other” family. I felt a bit uncomfortable, but only because I’m an introvert and I’m still not used to being at holiday gatherings without a spouse, but I’m so very grateful they invited me – took me in basically – and so glad I made myself go.
This year, I am looking down the barrel at our first official divorced holiday season, with a joint parenting agreement telling me what we all need to do. And I’ve got to say, it’s painful. I had another Thanksgiving on my own to navigate. And we’ve just begun to figure out what we’re going to for the Christmas season. But here’s what I do know.
The holidays aren’t about me. Thanksgiving was about offering gratitude for the very good gifts God has given us. And Christmas is not about the cards or the baking or the gifts we give other people or the gifts we want, it’s about commemorating the birth of the One who came to save us over and over again.
There’s not one way to celebrate the holidays. Christmas morning last year began at noon in our house after the kids were dropped off. My daughter’s birthday, which landed on Thanksgiving and was her Dad’s holiday this year, was celebrated by her and me on a couple other days that weren’t actually her birthday. Most holidays are Hallmark-instituted anyway, so just do a little schedule-jiggling to make it fit for you. Also, you can use this time to institute new traditions for you and your children, things you always wanted to try that maybe didn’t fit with your family before now.
It’s probably harder on my kids than it is on me. I need to remember this as I’m focusing on the yucky parts for me. Deep down, there is a part of every child that just wants things the way they were, or at the very least, the way they were supposed to be…all of us together. They don’t want two of every holiday. We need to be mindful of helping our kids adjust as well as they can, that they’re sharing their hearts with us, that they’re able to process what this feels like for them.
I am a grown woman who is capable of making other plans for myself. If I want to go to a movie on Christmas day for the first time in my life, I can. I can also suck it up and realize that I am surrounded by people who love me who will take me in if I asked. This can be an opportunity to try new things, to be creative with how we celebrate. We can think out of the box now that we’re in this unique situation of not having to bend to everyone else’s plans.
I am responsible for taking care of myself. Holidays can be brutal on anyone because we add all this extra activity to an already full, stressed-out life. But as a single person or especially a single mother, the burden to create the best holiday season ever lands on us. Or at least, we take it on. And we can run ourselves into the ground if we’re not careful. So, it’s important to know our limits, to set some boundaries (only one night out extra per week during the holiday season, for instance), and to do what we need to be healthy emotionally, spiritually and physically. Get some more sleep, drink more water, take a walk around the block in the snow, carve out time to spend with Jesus, with friends.
It’s okay to be sad. Yeah, the holidays can suck, and they can leave us feeling this sadness because, I think, they highlight the fact that we’re on our own when everyone seems like they’re coupled up. Healing takes time. This season might be sad and hard, but next season will probably be a little less so.
And a resource. Check out Divorce Care for a holiday event near you this season: http://www.divorcecare.org/holidays/event.
So show grace to yourself, be creative, be proactive, take care of yourself, and focus on the One at the center of it all…the One who will be walking by your side in the sad moments and in the bright ones.