“All in all, it was a pretty exciting Christmas, what with the relatives and the presents and the fun and the cops and Aunt Hazel’s dog blowing up in our living room.”This opening line to John Hughes’ short story “Christmas ‘59” (and the inspiration for National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation”) so perfectly captures the melee of holiday dysfunction. Add divorce and separation to standard holiday chaos and the holidays can become an overwhelmingly daunting time of heartache, hurt and anger amid ideals of magic, wonderment, nostalgia and peace on Earth. It can feel like a cruel season designed to highlight your flaws and failures. In turn, this can fan the flame of conflict and make your divorce that much worse. It doesn’t have to.
Here are a few tips on adjusting to the holidays in this new “season” of your life:
Prepare in advance to create new traditions. This won’t be the holidays of years past. If you have children, your custody schedule may throw a wrench in your previous family traditions. Perhaps you’re on your own or with a new significant other. You have to adapt. Find ways to create a “new normal” and make new traditions. Maybe it’s having your children each make a dish for the holiday dinner, or spending one night by yourself or with friends watching a cheesy holiday movie. Maybe it is celebrating the holidays the week before, or the week after, the actual date. There aren’t any rules that dictate how you celebrate. Try to plan in advance and be flexible. If you have kids, this goes for communicating with your ex on holiday plans, as well. If he or she won’t accommodate, don’t get on the naughty list with how you respond. If communication is not possible without causing conflict, ask your attorney for advice.
Be self-aware. As cheesy as it sounds, you are the captain of your ship. Divorce can be traumatic. You’re allowed to feel crappy. However, recognize that how you react is a choice, and often a self-fulfilling prophecy. Treating the season as a time of misery and family members (or your ex) with contempt, it’s sure your children (and others) will take their cue from you. Keep yourself in check. If you feel you can’t handle one more question about your personal life, excuse yourself and take a break. That’s allowed! If you can’t say anything nice . . . well, you know the drill. Don’t be the person whose only topic of conversation is your horrible divorce. This stage of your life doesn’t define you. Importantly, take care of yourself. Avoid the temptation to self-medicate and ask for help from others when needed. We promise you, this season will pass, and the world will keep on spinning.
Avoid focusing on the money. Divorce can cause a serious strain on finances. Accept that you may not be able to afford that “it” toy for your child this holiday and understand that it’s OK. Also accept that your ex may buy that very same “it” toy for your child. Try not to compete or become overly-focused on gifts. If you buy your child a gift and don’t allow him to take it to your ex’s house, it’s not really a gift. The memory of that flashy toy or new electronic will likely be gone by next year, but how you acted and spent your time will be remembered for far longer. Reflect on what’s important to you and ways you can make the holidays special without breaking the bank, or focusing on what others are doing (and spending).
Never underestimate the power of inclusion. Divorce is often a very polarizing process. At the end of the day, you’re left to put the pieces of your relationships with others back together. If you hold on to animosity and anger, it will rule you. Maybe you’re not ready yet, and that’s OK, but if there are new individuals in your life – perhaps your ex has remarried, or perhaps your former father-inlaw sends you a holiday card – it won’t be the worst thing in the world to treat them with kindness. Who knows, maybe they will show it back. Not everyone is out to hurt you. You are in a new act of your life that likely has new characters – or old ones with new roles – who may be around for a long time.
As Garrison Keillor so aptly points out, “a lovely thing about [the holidays] is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” In the grand scheme of life, there are far worse things than divorce. You’ll get through it, and if you are lucky, you will have many more holidays in store. Sonya DuBree