The holiday season, no matter the religion or culture, is always accompanied by unrealistic expectations of happiness and jocularity. Invariably, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment regardless of where or with whom you are celebrating, but when you are divorced and separated from your children, that anticipation can quickly morph into dread.
Pictures of drinking spiked eggnog alone under a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree may keep you up at night as the specter of merriment creeps closer. Don’t worry, though. You can do this…and maybe have a great Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year while you are at it .
If this is your first Holiday alone since the divorce or separation, the enhanced memories of the ghosts of Christmas past will do their best to make you believe that every moment was all Thomas Kincaid canvases depicting warm cider, and soft hugs and giggles of Christmas morning. You forget about the fights over who gets to open what first, disappointed whines about presents not received or can I eat my candy cane now!? Gone are the recollections of the mess that is the aftermath of the gift exchange, that special dinner, or the “wrapping party” from the night before. We are happy to be with our children, but all holidays are a LOT of work. Nobody is saying forget the good times, but acknowledging the down sides of any given occasion can lesson the sting of being the one NOT participating this year.
Whatever the custody agreement, maybe you got Thanksgiving and she got Hannukah or New Year’s, eventually it will be your turn to be the one making new traditions with your offspring. You want them to enjoy themselves, so encourage them to have fun at your ex’s too. No sensitive child that loves his parents can really enjoy themselves if they think one parent is home alone and miserable. Therefore, you owe it to them, as well as yourself and your new life, to have the best time possible.
The real key to getting through the holidays is planning. Some things are unavoidable, like illness or deaths in the family, but you should be on the same page with your ex that unless extreme emergency is involved, this schedule is set in stone. Stability is not only important to children, but adults need to know that they can count on something too, particularly considering the uncertainty of life after separation. The more time you have to plan ahead, the more likely you are to be able to get together with friends or relatives that may be visiting during that time. Or planning a trip to visit them! Maybe you can stay somewhere you went to as a kid with your sibling or visit a college roommate after twenty years of scheduling conflicts or missed chances. The more meaningful or fun the plans, the more likely you are to be able to satisfy that hole you are feeling from missing your kids.
Planning ahead also allows you and your ex to hammer out solid arrangements for when you may be able to call or Skype/FaceTime/video chat with the kids in a way that doesn’t make them feel bad or interrupt whatever plans the parent on duty has scheduled. Also, maybe one parent is on for Christmas, and the other for Christmas Eve. Leaving these preparations until the last minute increases the likelihood that something doesn’t work out, and someone is going to be disappointed.
Hopefully, there is family or friends around to spend this special time with, but that’s not always possible or feasible, depending on location or finances. This doesn’t give you permission to wallow. Remember, you don’t want your babies coming home to a parent that wears obvious signs of having been miserable and alone through the entire holiday. Instead, plan to practice self-care, so that you are a better parent and a better human. Someone who is healthy emotionally, MUST be a more engaged, stable parent than one battling to find their own footing in the new world of singlehood.
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