For lots of us, the holidays are a cheerful time meant for making sweet memories with friends and family. But when you’re going through your first holiday season after (or during the process of) a separation or divorce, these times can feel far from joyful. It becomes even harder when you find yourself without your children for the first time if it’s your ex-partner’s “turn” to have them during your family’s holiday. Whether the separation process has been messy and miserable or as amicable and smooth as can be, the first holiday season after such a big transition can hit really hard. Read on for some helpful tips on getting through it:
Be careful what you project
It’s totally normal and okay to tell your kids how much you miss them, but avoid unintentionally guilting them for not being with you by talking about how lonely you are, or how you wish they could spend the holidays with you instead. Don’t project your emotions onto your children. While perhaps truthful and certainly well-intentioned, remarks like these can make your child feel guilty that you’re hurting and lead them to blame themselves, despite the fact that they have zero control over the situation. Try to keep in mind how fortunate your children are to have two parents that love them and want to spend time with them. Remember that the most important thing is that they have a good time and know that they are loved and supported, regardless of who they’re spending time with.
Make new traditions
Not spending time with your kids this year might mean that carrying out holiday traditions of years past is no longer feasible, or perhaps they bring up too many painful memories now that your family structure has changed. This doesn’t mean that you have to abandon holiday traditions altogether – it’s never too late to start new ones! If you can’t spend the actual day of your chosen holiday with your kids, set aside another day and plan some special activities for you to do together. Maybe try starting a scrapbook where you document all the fun things you did together that season (or year, if you’re ambitious!), and fill it with photos, pressed leaves, or holiday train tickets. Something like this serves as a fun craft you can do together, as well as a special time-capsule of memories that you can look back on for years to come.
Stay connected if you can
If you have a collaborative relationship with your ex-partner, try to find a way to stay connected with your kids during the holiday even if you can’t physically be with them – maybe schedule a short FaceTime call just to say hi or goodnight, or agree to watch the same movie so that you can ask them about their favourite parts the next time you see them. Be careful not to bombard your kids or ex-partner, however – respect their time and allow them to enjoy their festivities. Let your kids know that you love them and are thinking of them – but that you want them to be free to have fun with their other parent.
Don’t go it alone
Even if you can’t find some single friends’ holiday festivities to join in on, make an effort to spend some time around people if you can manage it. When we’re feeling down, it can be tempting to isolate ourselves even further. Try to resist this temptation, even if it means plunking yourself down with a book and a coffee in a cafe that you like or dining alone at your favourite restaurant. This is known as “being alone, together,” and can have some surprising, mood-boosting benefits! You could also try spending the day giving back in some way, such as putting together care packages to donate to the less fortunate, or volunteering at a food bank – it may bring you some comfort and a sense of pride to be able to brighten someone else’s holiday (a total win-win!). If all of this seems overwhelming, try to find a time where you can give a good friend or another family member a call to catch-up. You may be surprised at how a quick conversation with someone you love can put things into perspective and provide some much-needed respite from the pressures and emotions of the holiday season.
Whatever you need to do to get through it, know that even if you feel lonely this season, you’re certainly not alone. While separation or divorce is hardly ever easy on families, remind yourself that you’re doing what’s best for your family and your children’s future – and that the holidays will get easier as you learn what works best. If you’re really struggling and feel like you need some extra support navigating this time, don’t hesitate to reach out to a counsellor.