For the divorced, holidays can be hell: splitting the kids up during vacation, no money to buy presents, loneliness, rejection, anger, depression, and much more. One woman told me she wished she could just take a pill and wake up in January. Do you feel that way about the upcoming season? I’ve been there and I can help. It’s not a little pink pill, but here’s my prescription for helping you survive the holiday blues.
Remember This is a New Christmas
This one will be tough and it will bitterly disappoint—no doubt about it. So stack it up in your mind against all the wonderful past Christmases and the beautiful ones to come. The only thing you really have to do this year is thank God for the real reason for the season. The rest is not that important.
Give Yourself Permission to Simplify
My mother never divorced, but she had nine children and knew how to enjoy the holidays on a tight budget and let go of things that were not absolutely necessary. Take a tip from her: You do not have to send cards this year; you do not have to bake a fruitcake, hand-sew the kids’ Christmas play costumes, or invite the neighbors over for the cookie party you hold every year. Don’t have money for gifts? Try writing short letters of love to those who matter. Don’t even have energy for that? Then tell your family and friends you’re taking a break this year and to look for you again next year when things are better. If they love you, they’ll understand.
Avoid Holiday Parties — If You Want To
If going to the family or friends get-together will help you feel better, then go! Put on something nice and enjoy the event. But if celebrating makes you sick to your stomach or anxious in any way, stay home. Forget what others might think. Don’t tap-dance to everyone else’s tune—it will only wear you out. This post-divorce period is time to take care of you. Be gentle with yourself.
Get the Kids Involved
If your ex-spouse is no longer there to bake cookies or put up the tree—and you feel you must maintain those traditions–then recruit the kids. Let them make a mess and let them help clean up. Working together on fun projects is what really makes the memory—not just the results.
Get Some Rest
Life is stressful. The holidays double the stress. Add divorce to the mix and you have a nuclear cocktail. Your emotions will drain you physically so get plenty of rest. If you just don’t have the energy or will to put effort into the holiday, ask for help. Maybe your Dad can take the kids ice-skating, or your neighbor can take them to the new Tintin or Chipmunk movies, while you take a long winter’s nap. A rested parent is a happier parent, divorced or not!
Help Someone Else
Lots of advice to the divorced and grieving is to get out of your own misery and help someone less fortunate. You’ll get out of your own pity-party and feel better. But I think there’s more to it than that. What if you know that’s a good idea, but you just can’t? What if you try and try and try to get some clothes, toys, or food to the poor this year, but all you can do is stay home and cry? Then thank God for the desire in your heart to help others and make a resolution that when you do have the energy, you will follow through on that desire. Even the pressure of having to perform good works can become another unnecessary energy drain.
Create Something Beautiful
Divorce and the misery it brings are dark and ugly. Beautifying your surroundings can help to relieve the pain. Ask the kids or friends to help you get the house clean and fresh, even for just the weekend or the day. Open the drapes if you like light; close the drapes if you prefer to cocoon a bit (not too much; it will feed depression). Light some candles. Pick some greenery or winter leaves and stick them in a vase; ask the children to draw you something to put on the fridge. Put on your favorite music (not anything that reminds you of your ex-spouse). Pick up your clothes and make your bed.
Eat Something Yummy
After divorce, our appetites for love, family, and security are starved; we crave affection and are hungry for affirmation. You can see that food and emotions are closely related. So if it’s your favorite grilled cheese sandwich, a steak and cold beer, or a dinner at your favorite Chinese restaurant that you crave, go ahead and treat yourself. And don’t just do it for the kids or with the kids or where the kids want to go. That’s good, too, but not as a steady diet. You pick what you like and scrap the false guilt.
Escape When You Can
The assault on emotions after a divorce—and especially during the holidays—can be brutal. Escape to a place (or activity) that gives you respite. Take a walk, read a book, putter in the garage, clean out the junk drawer. Every personality will find distraction and satisfaction in something different. Don’t escape to excessive TV or the computer. Don’t wallow in pornography. Don’t resort to addictive shopping, gambling, or the like. Any such self-centered focus doesn’t free you from pain but will enslave you in the long run.
Even if you are wondering where God has been in this divorce, don’t give up on Him. The act of crying out is cleansing and releases pent up pain. Medical studies have proven that patients who pray see increased health benefits and even cures of serious illnesses. Don’t let divorce rob you of mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Plan for Next Christmas
I know I suggested you let it go this year, but I can’t help it—the sales after Christmas are huge and a perfect time to pick up cards, gifts, and decorations for next year at tremendous savings. Next year will come and it will be better, I promise. It might takes a few years for you to get back on your feet, but something will happen when you least expect it. You’ll be sipping hot cider (or something stronger!) and humming carols in your car or in front of a crackling fire. You may be with the kids or not, with a new love or not, but it won’t really matter. Your heart will have come a long way and you’ll find yourself feeling happy again. That’s my present to you this year . . . the promise that holiday hell will eventually be replaced with holiday heaven.