Well, they’re here already, aren’t they — the rush of holidays at the end of the year and the expectation of personal and family happiness. You may be feeling dread if you are newly separated, divorcing or divorced, along with experiencing stress and sadness. This is all normal, so don't beat yourself up on this!
This can be a tricky time to navigate. Experts emphasize that it is important to plan for major holidays before they come. And with some planning, and a shift in expectations, the holidays can become a welcome time.
Here are 5 strategies to help you prepare and manage this time so you can
actually enjoy it.
1. Plan ahead, and
Start right now to think about the holidays ahead. Who is involved in the holidays -- your children? Other family members? Who needs to be accounted for? Where will everyone be? Pull out your calendar now to work on this. Your plans may, and probably will, change. Not to worry. The important thing is to start to think about this time and not be ambushed by the emotions and details that might put you off track.
FOR YOUR KIDS: Start now to make plans for you and your kids (both younger and older) during the holidays. If they are still young, let them know where they will be spending their holiday times. Will they be at your house for Christmas Eve or the first night of Hanukkah, or at the other parent’s? Where will they go next?
Communicate with them so that they know what to expect and get used to the idea before the actual holiday.
Keep your OLDER KIDS in mind as well. They will want to know how to manage the time between two homes. Encourage them to participate in making plans.
** Try to be considerate when making plans with your ex. This is good karma and will come back to you in great ways.
FOR YOURSELF: Getting used to the holidays alone and without a partner, kids, family, and some friends can be a huge adjustment. What will you be doing during this time? Who will you spend time with? Don’t wait until the day of the holiday to make a decision. It’s time to start planning for your own happiness for the holiday!
FOR OTHER FAMILY AND FRIENDS:
A separation or divorce impacts our bigger families and our circles of friends as well, They may be feeling awkward with you during the first few years; this is totally normal as everyone seeks to build a new reality and new relationships. They may not know how to connect with you, and may feel torn about taking sides. Keep this in mind as you make plans — they are working through your divorce as well and will also need time to adjust. Take a look at who might be a good connection for you during this time, and reach out to them. If others need more time to get used to the idea of your separation — give them that time. You don’t need their stress as well as yours during the holidays.
2. Manage your expectations.
What do you think you should be doing during the holidays? Is this realistic, or even true to who you are? We often have the idea that a house full of people, music, food during the holidays means happiness, but there are so many ways to spend this time. How can you make this time a meaningful and pleasant one for you? Take time to look at what you think it should be and then choose how to make it your own. Those old holiday trappings might have made your holiday a bit weird in the past. Now is a good time to examine them and choose what is meaningful for YOU!
3. Create new traditions.
This is my favorite! Take this one and run with it! Have you always made the same meal for the holidays? Would you rather have tacos or pizza for Christmas dinner? Do it! Less work in the kitchen and more time to enjoy whoever is spending the day with you. If you are on your own, consider take out if you don’t want to cook for yourself.
What would it be like if you did something completely different than you had done in years past? Did the family play an annual football game, and now you realize you hated this and can do something else? Did you abandon some of your own family holiday traditions when you got married? Can this be the time to enjoy them again?
Are there other holiday orphans around who might enjoy being part of a gathering? Can you plan a meal or outing with these people? They would probably be so glad to have company and new friends to laugh with.
You don't have to abandon all your traditions! Adapt the old traditions that you loved for your new situation.
4. Reduce your stress.
We can ALL be pushed to the edge with the holidays, and when you add in a separation or divorce, it can be enough to make you disintegrate. Don’t disintegrate.
Take care of yourself first. That’s it. It is counter-intuitive for many of us, but it is the only way you can support your family during this time.
Watch what you eat. Get exercise. Go for a walk with a friend. A yoga class. Play ice hockey. Manage your alcohol intake. Watch a funny movie. Look to see what you can do to make yourself stronger, healthier, and happier during this time.
5. Take a positive and proactive approach.
Yes, this time of year can suck. A holiday (or two) with a new normal, without your kids full-time, without the extended in-law family, friends who are confused with your new situation and don’t know how to include you as a singleton…..all of this can create sadness.
But try a sense of humor and look for the positive. Did you hate watching the football game after Thanksgiving? Did you really loathe going shopping on Black Friday with your spouse or sisters-in-law? Won’t you look forward to not having to hear your brother(or sister)-in-law share their political opinions at the dinner table? Take a minute and enjoy the selfish glee of this.
And most importantly, give yourself the gift of time. The first year after a separation or divorce is chock full of emotions. Acknowledge this, forgive yourself, forgive who else you can, breathe, and know that as you move forward, this time of year can again become welcome and joyous in new ways. Happy holidays. You deserve this!