The holidays are a time of family, friends, and traditions, however, this year it won’t be quite the same. You’ve recently gone through a divorce and will have to navigate a new holiday normal. Let’s face it, it won’t be easy.
After eighteen years of marriage, I crashed head-on into divorce shortly before it was time to hang the stockings with care. I remember feeling a bit schizophrenic about all of the festivities surrounding the holiday season. There were times when I wanted to get together with loved ones, and times I wanted to be alone, and I never quite knew when the mood for either would strike.
Here are a few things I learned.
Give yourself permission to be unaccountable.
I’m a very responsible and thoughtful person. When I commit to something, I do it, and I always try to be mindful of my words. Yet, I found that facing the holidays soon after a divorce was when I needed to allow myself permission to be unaccountable.
I’m not saying it’s okay to head to your nearest mall and castigate Santa by shouting, “You’re just a fraud like every other man I’ve known!”—but it is okay to flake out on your neighborhood holiday party at the last minute or to show up late for a Christmas tree cutting brunch because the idea of wielding a chain saw has been on your mind a little too often lately. Be prepared to experience a case of Yuletide neurosis—and that’s okay! You truly won’t know how you feel until the moment is upon you.
A couple of my dear friends invited me to their family gathering on Christmas Day because it was my ex’s turn to have our kids. I love my friends and have known their relatives for many years so I thought this would be a great thing to do, but when I arrived and began experiencing the warmth and joy of their familial love, it made me want to go home and pretend that it was just another day—which I proceeded to do. I had enough compassion for myself to do exactly what I needed without regret—and, of course, my friends completely understood.
It’s okay to give yourself permission to be mildly irresponsible during this exceedingly challenging time.
Make new traditions.
The holidays are a time when the tree is trimmed, decorations are brought down from the attic, Christmas cards are sent, and cookies are baked—everything is done just like the year before. While these traditions are important to keep, especially for the kids’ sake, perhaps it’s time to create some new observances or to modify the old ones.
Take that mistletoe that was previously hung in the front entry, where you shared sweet kisses with your ex—and move it somewhere else. If you have small children, hang it in their playroom so you can steal a wet one whenever you need some motherly goodness. Those sloppy little affections will surely brighten your day. If you have teenagers, hang the mistletoe above the refrigerator door. One of two things will happen: you’ll start receiving a quick peck on the cheek from your starving fourteen-year-old son or your grocery bill will be cut in half. Either way, it’s a win. And if you don’t have kids, hang it above your bathroom mirror because no one should love you more than you love yourself!
Don’t want to prepare a big holiday meal because you know what a cooked goose feels like? Well, don’t do it! Let go of the guilt! Where is it written that we have to martyr ourselves in this way? Go to someone else’s house for dinner. Offer to bring a bottle of wine. Remember, you’re single now and (bonus) that’s what singles do. Wine or rolls, that’s it! Do not under any circumstances offer to bring a side dish. That’s just more of the guilt talking.
Not looking forward to taking the kids on the annual New Year’s Day sledding trip to the mountain? The one fueled by hot buttered rum previously prepared by your loving ex?
This trip is a must, but with an understandable modification.
Playing in the snow with people who care about you is important for everyone involved. Your kids see that their world hasn’t been completely upended, your family and friends feel better witnessing your divorce survival skills, and you will have a great time because your friends have thoughtfully replaced the hot buttered rum with Swedish glug made from 190 proof grain alcohol!
Whatever your traditions are, it’s not a bad thing to change them up or create new ones. Wonderful memories lay ahead however you choose to make them happen.
I never quite understood the intrinsic value of retail therapy until I was blindsided by divorce. While holiday shopping can be tedious and stressful, when you’re e-commercing for yourself, it temporarily fills the hole left by your ex. It’s like Chinese takeout; it’s not enough sustenance to get you through a long and painful divorce but it’s enough to help you limp through the holiday pangs.
So buy what you can—or can’t—afford. You don’t have to shop for your not-so-better half anymore. Use that money on the new purse that’s been calling your name. Score yourself a new leather jacket for those parties you may or may not go to. Hit the spa for a facial and a massage. The divorce diet may have helped you shed a few pounds so take advantage of it. Looking good equals feeling good. (And if your ex was a cheater, it is definitely the best revenge!)
Blockbusters and Butterfinger Bites.
With the holidays come loads of new movies. Unlike a table for one in a restaurant, sitting in a darkened movie theater by yourself isn’t a bad thing. It provides escape, which is just what is needed when the clock is about to strike midnight on New Year’s Eve.
More good news: you don’t have to share your popcorn or give up any of your Milk Duds. Plus, there’s no heavy discussions about what the damned movie really meant! You can simply be entertained while eating comfort food—the way God intended it.
It’s not an easy time.
Like everything else about divorce, you have a choice of how you want to be. As always, find the things to be grateful for in your life. Compare your circumstances to so many others in the world who are far less fortunate. Be an example to your children. They’re watching even when you think they’re not. Yes, your broken heart hurts but it will surely heal and the wound will make you a better person—if you allow it. Whether you know it yet or not, the best is yet to come. After all, a brand new year is just around the corner!