Some people hang onto their marriage longer than they know they should because of financial issues. And some hang on longer than they should because they don’t want to break up their family. They worry what it will do to their kids, and what it will do to them when they aren’t able to see their children every day.
I’ve talked to enough divorced women to know the holidays are, by far, the hardest time of year for them. I am in the same boat. There’s nothing that sends me into a tail spin since my divorce like the emotions that flood me this time of the year.
Splitting the holidays with your ex sucks. Not just a little bit either — it’s the worst part of divorce, and we all know there are many horrible parts, so that is really saying something.
But I’ve done a few things to keep my head above water these past few years since my divorce. If you or someone you know are dreading the holidays and not sure how you are going to make it through in on piece (you will), these are some things I’ve done which have made all the difference.
1. The holiday can be any day you want it to be.
You can have a Thanksgiving feast two days late if you want. If your ex has your kids on a special day, you get to move around the calendar and set the date when you will celebrate with the kids.
If you love cooking all day but won’t have a house full, wait until you do. There’s no reason why you should have to sacrifice what truly makes you happy around this time of year because your kids aren’t with you full time. If you do, it will add to the misery and guilt you may already be feeling, and this helps no one. Set a day, and make it all happen.
2. Make some new traditions.
Some of the things we used to do as a family when I was married have been too painful to relive. So, I took it upon myself during my alone time to come up with some new plans for us to do together. This has been a great way to remove myself from nostalgia of previous holidays and feel like we are moving on. Make plans, even if you don’t think you’ll want to be social.
My first Christmas Eve without my kids was something I’d been dreading for almost a year. I even had bad dreams about it. I fought my ex on it. I wanted them all during the season and told him he could come visit them if he wanted to see them even though I knew it wasn’t rational or fair.
So this is what I did instead: I asked the rest of my family to join me for Japanese food on Christmas Eve. Then, I went home and wrapped all the gifts while watching Christmas movies — something I’d saved on purpose to busy myself.
Then I called my best friend. Before I new it, my kids were home unwrapping their Christmas pajamas in front of the fireplace. I missed them, and it was hard, but I got through it with more grace than I expected.
Don’t freestyle all of your alone time over the holidays. Make plans, and actually follow through. It’s what has saved me.
3. Talk about the holidays with your ex when the kids aren’t around.
And do it well in advance, before the emotions of the holiday grab hold of you and make you feel like a walking heart that’s been ripped in two. Please take it from a Christmas-loving mother who has been through three holiday seasons in a co-parenting arrangement: emotions run high. As in, you will want to say and do things you don’t mean when you see a family picking out Christmas stockings together in Target and the parents walk hand-in-hand trying to calm their excited children.
This time of year can be hard on the emotions regardless. Throw in a divorce and not seeing your kids all the time, and everything is kicked up several notches. Do it before those feelings kick in, stick to the plan, and remember this is about the kids. They don’t get a do-over when it comes to their childhood. Don’t fuck it up for them because of your ego and your sadness.
4. Accept you are going to have shitty moments.
It’s going to happen. Don’t try to fight it. Because when you start to struggle, and know it’s coming, it can ease the blow. It’s normal and natural; change always brings about hardships, and this is no different. Even if you couldn’t stand your ex and are doing the happy dance because you aren’t married, you might find yourself at the corner of “this is fucking hard” and “how am I going to get through this.”
But you will get through it. I promise.
5. Ask for help.
Tell family and friends you may be struggling. Talk about it. If you are feeling lonely, let them know. If you stay in a cocoon and expect those you love, no matter how near and dear, to ease some of your pain, they won’t. Not because they don’t care, but simply because they don’t know.
I can’t sit here and tell you it will be fine. The truth is, it might not be. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’ll have moments that downright suck the life out of you.
But I will say doing these things have helped me shift my dreaded perspective about the holidays. This year will be the fourth year I split kid-time with my ex over the holidays, and I can honestly say it doesn’t feel as hard, and there are a lot of things I’m looking forward to. And damn, that feels good.