Let’s face it: by this time in December, those of us thinking about divorce, going through a divorce, or celebrating the holidays for the first time alone this year are completely exhausted.
Recently, our lives were turned upside down, and everything we thought we knew and cherished about our relationships and the holidays has been yanked way.
It can be easy to fall in the cycle of “I’ll just push through it and it will be different next year.” But we deserve to feel better right now, during the holidays. And it’s not too late. If we remember to use our holiday survival guide, we can decree our stress and still have a fighting chance at enjoying the rest of the season.
We all experience mixed emotions when our divorces collide with the holidays, so when we are stressed and overwhelmed, remember the following:
We get stressed because of the unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves, because of overspending thinking a perfect holiday means lavish gifts and meals, and because we get too strung out to stop and breath. But it doesn’t have to be like that. We must remember that we aren’t obligated to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on the perfect holiday gifts and decorations, which we’ll only be reeling from when the credit card bill comes in January.
When we’re dealing with the holidays and divorce, we feel like we’re going in circles with no way to stop the madness. As soon as this happens, we can do the following exercise:
Ask yourself these questions:
What are the things I can do without this year?
This list is usually longer than we’d expect, if we are really honest with ourselves.
What are the three things I cherish? What do my children cherish?
We’ll be surprised to find they have nothing to do with money and gifts.
When is the last time I actually did something for yourself?
It’s easy to get caught up in buying gifts for other people, but what are the gifts we will give ourselves?
Now that we have stress covered, let’s examine guilt: When we feel this, and some reason we think the divorce is our fault, and that we don’t deserve a nice holiday.
Knock that off.
We deserve better and are worthy of better. Blaming ourselves entirely for the dissolution of a relationship involving two consenting adults will get us nowhere. What we need right now is to provide ourselves with comfort and care…whether that is speaking with a counselor on how to properly handle this emotion during the holidays, or finding support with loving and non-judgmental family and friends.
Many divorcing parents feel guilty that they are not providing their children with the perfect holiday. This may be based on thinking their children will be traumatized from a split home, or missing the absence of a parent, or having to celebrate the holidays at two separate homes. We know that our children are way more resilient than we can imagine—they are strong. But they will pick up on our energy and will model how they should act and how they should feel based on what we’re doing.
We we are feeling alone and heartbroken when we are supposed to feel merry and bright, remember this: we are human, and we may be hurt, and we may feel that ourselves, as well as our children may feel “out of place” when the family structure we knew is on shaky ground, especially during the time of year when family togetherness is everything.
Let’s allow ourselves to grieve. Separation and divorce is essentially the death of a marriage, and we have every right to grieve like any other loss. Right now, more than ever, as the days grow shorter and colder, we must not be afraid to reach out to grieving support groups when we need somebody to lean on. We don’t have to go through this time alone, and we should remind ourselves that we have people who love us and care about us.
Many times, friends and family members don’t know exactly what to say to us, which may explain their not reaching out. But to ask for their help and their support, especially during the holidays, speaks volumes of our courage.
When we are feeling angry or resentful or bitter, we must careful!
It can be easy to fall into the trap as of “my spouse screwed me over” or “it’s all his/her fault for doing (insert any wrongdoing in here). But where does that blame game get us? Nowhere. And especially during the holidays, that anger will only tear us apart. We may hear an excited co-worker talk about their engagement at the office holiday party, and then accidentally snap at them. We may lash out at our children when they about who received the better toy from Santa.
The stress of the season makes the hurt we feel come to a nasty head that will leave us with a holiday hangover come January.
Let’s acknowledge that we have a right to feel these emotions, then just ask ourselves,
“What purpose will these negative emotions serve me during this time of year?”
“What effect will these feelings have on the loved ones around me, especially if I have children? Do I want my children to remember this time of year as sad, when they should be happy?”
I’ll give you a hint on these answers: the anger and bitterness we feel, though human, will serve us no purpose, especially during the holidays. And remember that these particular emotions have the ability to project themselves onto everyone around us, which only increases our stress.
It’s easy to feel like the Grinch this time of year, given the stress and nightmare we may be feeling. But you have a choice: We can consciously choose to be happy and festive and joyous. Or, we can chose to be a wreck. We must make peace with the fact that our separation and divorce and its drama won’t go away as the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.
But as we near the end of this holiday season, we can embrace the gift that we have actually been given: the second chance in our lives to start over, and to fully appreciate just how strong we are and how far we’ve come. And that’s not a gift we’ll want to return to the department story on December 26th.
Author: Martha Bodyfelt
Editor: Renée Picard