I think we can all agree that the holiday season is difficult for everyone. Even if you're in a relationship, separated, or divorced, the holidays trigger a mass of conflicting emotions about love, family, and self-care. From November to February we encounter a group of celebrations that paint an idealized version of love that is suppose to be found outside ourselves rather than within. This picture of love is nearly impossible to attain and maintain in the form we so desire.
Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the holiday season, but what I've learned to embrace is the essence buried beneath all the hype of idealized love so as to focus on the simple stuff.
Here are some tips for both singles and families with kids facing the holiday without a spouse or partner. These are things that you may be using for many celebrations to come and not just during the first year after a breakup or divorce. Learning to approach the holidays after the idealized image of what your life was suppose to look like and what it truly is may be an ongoing process.
Focus on What You Have
During the holiday season, focus on the positive things happening in your life and turn your attention away from what you feel is missing. For instance, maybe you miss the home you built together, communal dinners around the table, and a Christmas tree; however, this year you have a warm and cozy apartment, activities with new friends, time with your kids, and a holiday dinner made by other people.
By having gratitude for what is happening in the present, you are learning to grieve and let go of the past. This will welcome into your life new holiday experiences.
Have a Plan
If you sense the holidays will be an emotionally difficult time for you, be proactive and put a plan in place for what you want to be doing. For the first couple years, you might want to be creative and think outside the normal holiday traditions. See it as a time to experiment and try something new. If you've always spent the holidays with friends and family, maybe go on a vacation instead and do something fun.
Above all try to keep your celebration simple the first couple years after a loss of relationship. It's important to conserve your emotional energy because you will be using it to grieve your loss.
Have Fun & Create a New Tradition Just for You
If you're going to be home alone without a partner or your kids, give yourself something that is going to cultivate self-love and acceptance. Read a special book, buy yourself a gift, listen to holiday music, watch a particular movie, cook new kinds of food, knit hats for the homeless, go roller skating or ice skating, schedule a hiking trip, or buy gifts for families in need. Instead of reaching for traditions that may have been handed down from your family of origin, look at the stuff you like to do, the things that make you happy, and create a new tradition from there.
Keep Busy But Not Too Busy
I'm almost reluctant to offer this advice because I know staying busy can also be an emotional escape route -- a way to avoid the pain of breaking up or getting divorced. However, the holiday season is like the Superbowl of unfulfilled needs in regards to love, so staying busy might actually be a coping tool that is necessary just to make it through. Hey, you might just have to do what you have to do to get to the other side and realize that next year might be different.
My recommendation is to check in and continually ask yourself, "Am I staying busy to avoid the pain of the loss of love?" If the answer is "Yes," don't beat yourself up, just use it as a moment to be kind and gentle with yourself. Give yourself a mental hug. Say to yourself, "I see that I'm sad right now so I'm staying busy to escape the discomfort. May I have the strength to get through this holiday season and find the courage to face my pain in the future."
Here are some things you can do to keep busy: volunteer for a charity, visit an elder care facility, get involved at your church or community center, clean and organize your house, exercise, invest in new projects, and play with the kids.
Use the Holidays as a Lesson in Gratitude & Giving
Sometimes the holidays can get lost in the fancy food, gift giving, and gatherings. Why not use your breakup or divorce as an opportunity to strip these holidays down to their essence? What is the core message of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, Valentines Day, etc.?
For me, all these celebrations are an opportunity to express gratitude for life and in response we give back in some symbolic way.
This could be the perfect time to begin a conscious gratitude practice. Throughout the holiday season, wake up in the morning, and like a reverent prayer, say aloud or write down in your journal at least one thing you are grateful for today.
More importantly, look for unique ways you can give back either through monetary gifts, labor, or your gentle presence.
Exercise & Eat Well
I can't emphasize this advice enough. If you are a person who gets depressed during the holidays and uses food as a way to feel more loved, stay conscious of this strategy. Again, don't beat yourself up for being this way, just remain aware of your behavior and put a healthy plan in place ahead of time.
Put your eating and exercise routine in place in October. Don't make it so strenuous that it will be hard to keep up, but give yourself reachable goals like walking three times a week and replacing fattening snack foods like chocolate with smoothies. Stick to it the best you can and keep it simple.
When you slip off the exercise routine and eating habits, just notice what's happening, laugh at yourself, and then come back.
Treat your body well by getting your hair cut, going for a massage, and getting out in the fresh air and sunshine. Stay connected and aware of your body's sensations and health during the holiday season. Disconnecting from your body is one way to avoid the pain of what's happening in your life, so try to tune in to your body's messages for self-care and act on them.
Use this time to investigate your emotional eating habits by reading my ebook Love, Mindfulness, and Food. This book also has some eating tips that might help when faced with holiday meals.
Avoid Bars & Clubs
If you've just broken up or gotten divorced, and you're feeling lonely during the holiday season, resist the urge to seek out romantic companionship. More than likely you're not ready to date during this extremely emotional time, and it's possible you want to use the distraction of a new relationship or sex to avoid the discomfort of your sadness and pain.
If you gravitate to bars and dance clubs for companionship, consider these places off limits during the holiday season. Instead focus your energy for emotional connection into healthy communities such as support groups, spiritual centers, extended family, charities, or special interest groups.
Plan for Depression
Be realistic about potential depression and sadness during the holidays. Have a plan in place for who you are going to call when things get emotionally difficult. Reach out and ask someone to be your lifeline for when you might need some emotional help.
Evaluate your depression. If you are seriously depressed, don't delay getting professional help and counseling during this time. See the holidays as a positive catalyst that might put you on the road to new found healing.
Alternatively, if you feel you are only experiencing mild sadness and grief, then check out these ten tips for coping with loneliness and depression.
Dig into A Spiritual Practice
Maybe you are a very spiritual person or perhaps you've never thought much about the meaning of life. Your breakup or divorce is the perfect opportunity for digging into a spiritual practice or developing a new one.
When your pain and grief becomes too great, always tell yourself that it will get better because truly it does. All you have to do is look back at any challenge you've faced in your life to see there is proof of hope for things to get better.
Write an example of a difficult experience down on a post it note and then prove how your life got better afterwards. Keep this post it note with you as a talisman or a reminder that this moment will pass. You will learn to let go, your suffering will ease, and new positive experiences will come into your life in the future.
10 Tips for Surviving the Holidays as a Divorced Single Parent
- Practice being non-reactive with your ex. Many emotional buttons may be pushed during the holidays, so develop an awareness practice to just observe your emotions and not react.
- Enjoy the time you have with your kids, and avoid focusing on how the holidays have changed because of your divorce.
- Avoid making the holidays a competition between you and your ex. Focus on the big stuff like being to together, playing games, and creating traditions. Keep things simple and avoid buying expensive gifts and planning extravagant celebrations. Become aware of any unconscious desire you have to make the kids feel guilty about spending time with your ex.
- Create new traditions that celebrate the whole season without focusing on one specific day. Involve grandparents and other family members in making these new traditions.
- Cultivate a generous spirit and help your children shop for a gift for your ex. Decide if the gift exchange will be with your partner or separate. You may want to avoid celebrating the holidays together because it could foster a fantasy that you and your ex will get back together.
- Be proactive and collaborate on a parenting schedule for the holidays in October. Put it in writing to make sure you're both on the same page.
- If your kids have to travel out of state, make these arrangements well in advance and share the details with the your ex.
- Try alternating where the meals are going to be eaten instead of requiring the kids to sit through more than one meal on the same day.
- Figure out who is responsible for handling childcare during school break.
- Keep the dialogue going with your kids during the holidays. Ask them what they want and how they're feeling. Give them choices and within reason respect their decisions.