For most of us, the holiday season conjures warm, fuzzy images of special meals, family gatherings, and children unwrapping presents. But what happens when divorce turns these cherished traditions upside down? If you are divorced or separated, it is all too easy for the holidays to feel lonely, stressful, and downright depressing. But it doesn’t have to! If you are newly single–with or without kids–here are some easy tips for making the post-split holidays fun and enjoyable.
1. Prepare to Feel Emotional
Family therapists report a sharp increase in appointments with recent divorced individuals and families during the month of December. It’s little surprise why. Holidays are a unique time of the year and thinking back to all those Thanksgiving meals at your in-laws is often a potent reminder of the “good old days” before divorce. Be ready to experience a mix of emotions, from anger and resentment to jealously, depression, and sadness. Make an appointment with a therapist as needed, but in the meantime, be prepared to have an emotional reaction to everything from Christmas songs on the radio to sappy holiday TV specials. As a way to cope with post-divorce holiday depression, one divorce therapist has his clients recite: “I am human; I will probably feel sad; and I am ready!”
2. Create New Traditions
To maintain equilibrium during what can be a very difficult season, think about this first year after your divorce as a chance to celebrate the holidays in new ways, whether it is sharing a meal with friends and neighbors, volunteering, attending special holiday events in your community or place of worship, or seeing members of your own family. If you have children, keeping certain traditions–like opening presents of Christmas Day or lighting the Chanukah candles–is important for feelings of family continuity and security, of course. But establishing new rituals can be a powerful way to honor the family you are right now.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Alone
If you don’t have children, or if your kids will spend the holiday with your spouse, recognize that there are worse ways to spend the holidays than by yourself. If you have the day off from work, fill the day with activities that are sure to lift your spirits. Rent a few comedies, get some exercise by going for a walk or hitting the gym, and do things that make you feel satisfied and happy, whether it’s fixing something around the house, reading, or playing with your dog.
4. Keep the Family Intact
Are you on reasonably good terms with your former spouse? If you have kids, you may want to consider spending parts of the holidays together as a way to acknowledge and honor the family that was, and most likely still remains, a huge part of your children’s memories, say family therapists. Attend your children’s holiday concerts at school together, invite him or her to come over for brunch or a gift exchange or for whatever tradition you shared as an intact family. However, don’t force it. If there is lingering hostility between the two of you, it may be best to skip the get together–and the stress and tension you would likely all feel.
5. Be Flexible
When kids are involved, try to work out holiday child custody arrangements well in advance, but stay open to making sure these plans remain what is best for your children. If this the first holiday season since your divorce, children can, depending on their age, have the same or stronger emotional reaction as grown ups when trying to cope with this new situation. It may be very important to your child to see his or her other parent on the holiday. Even if you can’t stomach the thought of sitting in the same room as your spouse, try to come up with a solution for your child’s sake. Get input from your child as to how he or she would like to spend the holidays, but to avoid disappointment or a scarring experience, do all the negotiating behind the scenes with your spouse. Bottom line, your child does not need to hear tense phone calls discussing what you will–or won’t do–during the holidays.
6. Do Something Different
Who says you need to eat cranberries and stuffing from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve? View this year as a way to redefine your holidays and celebrate on your own terms. Have you always wanted to go to a yoga retreat? Travel to a warm destination in the middle of December? Be a ski bum for the week? If you are newly single, and the thought of being around your married friends and family members just seems like too much, considering setting out on your own. You may be surprised by the number of other singles you meet and how much fun having a non-holiday can be. If you have other single or newly divorced friends, invite them along for an adventurous kick off to your new life.
7. Greet Your New Life
If your annual holiday greeting card was accompanied by a family portrait, photos of the kids, and a letter running down the highlights of your year, there is no reason not to continue with this tradition. Have a friend take a great photo of just you (or you and your kids) having fun and include it in this year’s mailing. This simple gesture can be a wonderful gift to friends and family to let them know that you are surviving–and thriving–in your post-divorce life.