Ah, the holidays, when everything sparkles and glitters, and the air is filled with expectation. Certain TV channels devote their entire lineup to romantic Christmas movies and tales of family togetherness, and radio stations play Christmas songs nonstop. It's a magical time when everybody is happy and busy. Unless, of course, you're newly divorced, and it feels like your holiday traditions have shattered like the ornaments the cat knocked off the tree. Let's talk about navigating the holidays after divorce.
Even though it feels like it, trust us that you are absolutely not alone. Not everyone is paired off and kissing under the mistletoe. Your children, even if they're excited to be with your ex, have not forgotten all about you. But there's no doubt things are different this year. Being shut out of the traditional feast at your ex-mother-in-law's table can make you feel a bit like the little match girl, on the outside looking in. The good news is that loss of old traditions means that there is room to develop new ones on your own terms.
Figure Out What You Need. Before you go rushing to fill the empty time, sit down with yourself to assess what you really need. Do you really miss the hustle and bustle, just because that's what the holidays have always been? If so, that's fine; we'll talk about how to fill that void. If, on the other hand, you think you might actually prefer a literal silent night (or week), give yourself permission to put yourself first and want what you want, not what you think you should want.
Confide in a Friend. If you're sad about the holidays, you might think that talking about it to your friends would make you look pathetic or bring them down. Not so, at least not if you do it right. Your friends may be wondering what you need, but be afraid to ask. Confide in one or two friends briefly: "You know, this is my first holiday after the divorce, and I'm worried about what to expect, and about being lonely." This gives your friends or family permission to extend invitations and draw you into their traditions, if that would make you feel better.
Find Some Birds of a Feather. If you haven't yet, consider joining a divorce support group. Few things are as comforting as someone who understands exactly what you're going through. You may not think you need support, but there's little to lose; most groups are free, and if it doesn't work for you, you can leave. But you may find instead the beginning of some lifelong friendships. Your divorce attorney may be able to steer you to some good groups.
Help Someone Else. It may sound cliche, but helping someone else really does make you feel better. Look into local volunteer opportunities. Getting involved will accomplish a number of things. First, you'll fill some otherwise empty hours. Second, getting involved in a cause or charity you care about may energize you and help you meet like-minded people. Third, by helping others you may come to realize you don't have it as bad as you thought. And, last but not least, helping people just feels good, and might add a little sparkle to your holiday that you didn't expect.
Engage in Self-Care. "Self-care" means different things to different people (see the first tip above). It might mean a long bubble bath and a movie marathon in your pajamas. It might mean a long brisk hike on a cool, crisp afternoon. It certainly means talking to yourself as kindly as you would talk to a friend who was in your shoes. You've had a rough enough year. Don't be mean to yourself. You don't deserve it.
Limit Social Media. If you want to be bombarded with what seems to be everyone else's Instagram- or Facebook-perfect holiday, serve yourself up a big steaming helping of social media. There you can torture yourself with your acquaintances' (carefully curated) apparently perfect lives and the perceived contrast with your own. Trust us: those lives are not as perfect as they look (and, on some level, you know that). You can always catch up with your online posse after the holidays. For now, curl up with a real book instead of Facebook.
Make Some New Traditions. There is one gift in being alone at the holidays: the freedom to choose what you want. Use that freedom to create some new traditions. A potluck Christmas brunch for friends with no family nearby? A New Year's Eve party for other single friends? A weekend trip to a nearby place you love? Your imagination (and budget) are the only limits.
No matter what you choose to do this holiday season, manage your expectations. That means, on one hand, not to expect the perfect Hallmark Christmas (it rarely happens for anyone, which is why the post-Christmas "letdown" is so common). But it also means that you shouldn't expect to be miserable. Open yourself up to the possibility of new joys, large and small. Yes, the first Christmas after divorce is hard. But you will gain your footing, and we promise, next year will be easier.
If you have questions about finding the support you need post-divorce, please feel free to contact our law office. We can point you in the right direction and assure you that you are truly not alone.
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