I grew up dreaming of big family holiday gatherings. The ones we saw on TV and in magazines. I was born last into a family of 7 older siblings. Maybe it’s in my blood. But because of my parent’s choices, I grew up without them. Raised mostly as an only child.
Once married, I thought I’d finally see those family dinners. But again others made the choices for me, there was dysfunction in a seemingly great-looking family, and after three children we were done. Now, I’m divorced with no family (being the youngest of older parents) and only one child still at home. My life is not like what I envisioned when I was younger.
And I’ve had to mourn that fact.
It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out on this divorce recovery journey or found your strength to move on after a divorce, the holidays can be difficult for any of us (especially with kids). So today I’m sharing several survival strategies to help you move through this difficult time with ease while finding peace and joy in the season.
When it’s too painful to watch, don’t.
The holidays have a way of highlighting the losses in our life. We don’t talk about how we yearn for that picturesque life that others seem to have. We don’t talk about how hard it is to see what others have and wish that was the life we were living.
Not that I’m on Facebook much anymore (I prefer Twitter and Instagram), but I usually take a social media break around the holidays because it used to hurt to see the highlight reels of my friends’ holiday gatherings. (I say “highlight reel” because we never know who has dysfunctional family gatherings even if all the pictures look so perfectly wonderful.)
It’s not that I’m not happy for my friends because I truly am. It’s just healthier for me not to watch, wish, or wonder. It’s easier for me to focus on all that I have to be thankful for, as well as my future ahead when I’m not looking at what I had or hoped I had before infidelity (and abuse) ruined it. I have healthy boundaries that keep me in a thriving mindset.
If getting on Facebook, Instagram, or another social media outlet, is painful for you on or after the holidays, then unfollow or take a break. Remember self-care is mainly about your limits (or boundaries) – doing what’s best for you and your emotional health. During personal healing, you should have limits on the amount of unnecessary hurt or triggers you add to an already hard time.
Added note: If you’re following, still “friends” or even peaking at your ex’s profile, or his family, you’re only pouring painful and unhealthy poison into yourself. Delete those you’re still friends with. (Remember how we all survived before Facebook.) His family can see the kids and pictures other ways beyond staying connected with you. Block your STBX/Ex and his newest girlfriend and/or wife, so they can’t see you and you can’t see them. Trust me! You’ll thank me for it later!
Not only be intentional about the amount of extra pain you endure but also about your time and planning. If you’re an introvert then plan for plenty of alone time, especially if you have children. While children are away or busy, plan to enjoy your time with that book you’ve wanted to read, get your shopping done, or plan what you’ll watch. Use this time to fill your emotional bucket. Have things planned so you’re not left with just your thoughts!
If you’re an extrovert, plan how you’ll surround yourself with plenty of friends/family during the holidays without overdoing it. Nobody inviting you? Then invite them to your place, to a restaurant, or to the movies. Instead of sitting home alone, find a group that’s getting together or volunteering in your community to be around people. This will fill your emotional bucket.
Be flexible but also intentional to keep your mind focused on what you have to be thankful for and your heart focused on the future. It may be hard to share your kids during this time, especially the first year, but keeping yourself busy will help you to keep processing through the stages of healing.
Cry if you need to, talk it out with a trusted friend, counselor, or Christian mentor, journal and work through your emotions, but do not stay there.
Create new memories.
My son will never forget the Christmas that we invited another single mom over to help cook a huge meal for the local homeless hotel (a non-profit took over a hotel to shelter the homeless). I can’t even remember what presents he received, I’m sure he can’t either, but when we drive by that now-empty hotel he brings up that day. Your kids will remember experiences more than presents. Presents are temporary happiness, memories last a lifetime. Remember that as you’re shopping and planning for the holidays this year.
A lot of single-parent households learn that “holiday time” doesn’t have to take place on the exact holiday. You can create a just as memorable experience on another day as you would on the actual holiday. Smaller children will feel special knowing they have two mornings of opening presents while older children get excited about celebrating early, new traditions, or extra pie.
On our first Christmas, my two children and I went to a live nativity on the 23rd. We came home for warm showers and then opened presents. Since we always have games under the tree, we played games and drank homemade eggnog shakes (an old tradition from my own childhood) until bedtime. We mixed old traditions with new memorable traditions and even though it was one of my hardest holidays, I enjoy the memories we made even more.
Memories are what count, not gifts. Check out my list of inexpensive ways to create memories (from back when this was a homeschooling blog) or check out your local events to see what’s going on in your area to either keep yourself busy or create memories with your children to help you survive this season.
If you were married to a toxic person you probably already know that they’ll try to compete for your child’s time, her attention, her admiration, and her love trying to get her on his side. Your ex-husband will know that you’re the better parent but he’ll compete for placement in the child’s life with presents and/or other lavish expenses.
But as hard as it is, don’t try to compete with your ex or his family. Just let your child enjoy the gifts. Kids do see this type of back-and-forth involvement is going on. Eventually, they do understand who is healthy and who is playing manipulative games (once they can get away). That’s what I keep reminding myself too as I see the games still being played years later. Keeping your integrity is the name of our game even if we’re playing alone. 😉
Find joy in the season.
Finding joy in the holiday season or any season also means giving yourself a break. You don’t have to do all the things or be everything you always have been. You can embrace the season while giving yourself grace. Accept this is where you are right now as you slowly move through the divorce recovery process.
I’ve had several years where the Christmas tree didn’t go up and some decorations were left put away (even though I love to decorate for the holidays), as well as years I went without baking (or I just bought refrigerated dough), but we still had a joyous and memorable year with much less stress. Enjoy this new season after separation or divorce with your children, holding on to some old traditions and making new ones.
We can find joy not because life is great or things are perfect. We can find joy because God is with us, He keeps His promises, you have your children and/or your family and friends, and in the end, He works everything out for good… even if it doesn’t feel that way, or you don’t want to hear that right now.
You will survive the holidays. And I pray you also find joy!
Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. – Psalm 126:5 NLT
Feel free to share your ideas on how to recreate memories or be intentional during this time. How are you planning to survive?
God bless your healing journey,
Find local divorce support groups or online forums on this ultimate list of divorce and abuse healing resources.
I work on the holidays! The hospital pays me and feeds me. I free up a coworker who has small children and big family celebrations.
Jen Grice says
That’s very kind of you and a great way to keep busy, Cathy. Thanks for sharing!
I left my ex husband at the beginning of October this year and our divorce was final yesterday 12/14/18. That was after we postponed it. He had an affair and then was begging me to come back and move home. He would only leave this other woman if I would move home. I wanted to go home especially during the holidays. He got super mad at me yesterday because I said I wasn’t coming home so he texted our lawyer to send the papers over to the judge to sign. We don’t have children but I was a stepmom to his two girls for 6 years. They are now 10 and 12. I’m so sad that I never get to see them or do Christmas with them this year. I can’t believe this is what my dreams of my own family has come to. Most divorced woman at least still have their children. I’ve lost my girls in this along with my husband. Oh and I lost my home.
Jen Grice says
That’s horrible and I’m so sorry for the loss of the step-children and your home along with the divorce. I pray you are finding joy and peace during the season. God bless you and your healing journey.