I wanted to do an extra post this week because of the holiday. The first holidays after a break-up, separation, or divorce are incredibly difficult. There is the usual stress of holidays - traditions, family, gifts, and events. These are made even more stressful when these traditions involved the ex, time spent with their family, extravagant gifts from him/her, or really enjoyable events with him/her. Essentially, you have to start anew. Maybe not in all areas, but definitely in some.
This was really tough for me because my ex left three weeks before Thanksgiving. I had to grieve, get a job, and navigate the holidays all at once. So when Thanksgiving came, I didn’t have the wherewithal to really notice the changes, nor create something new. In fact, to be honest with you, I don’t even remember Thanksgiving 2016. I can’t recall if my parents came to my home, or I went to theirs. I have no idea how long I was with them, or what we did. And I can’t say for sure if I even ate anything. There is no recollection of that day in my mind. That’s how unprepared for it I was.
Since then, I’ve gone through two holiday seasons as a single woman. And I’m just as excited about them now as I was when I was married. So I want to pass along a few things I’ve learned and tried to practice for the holiday season.
Its okay to skip events.
Right now you have to be a little selfish. Going to holiday events requires festive outfits, a cheery persona, and witty banter. If you’re like me, you won't have the energy for that. It’s better to stay home and cry or binge-watch the Hallmark channel than to go to the event and offend people or cause a scene. Of course, if you’re feeling up to it or need the distraction, then certainly go for it! But if not, send a nice note and maybe a small gift (depending on how close you are to the host), and don’t think twice about it.
Choose your crowd wisely.
Surround yourself with people that are understanding and compassionate, but not nosey. Having to answer “where’s [insert ex’s name here]?” several dozen times in one evening is a very undesirable task. If you’re feeling emotionally raw or reflective, that’s not a task you need to take on. So if that’s Aunt Jean, maybe avoid events that Aunt Jean is at (maybe not for forever, but for a season or two). Or have a little chat with Aunt Jean beforehand to give her a very brief version of what’s happened and how relaxed you’d like the holiday to be. Anyone who cares about you will respect that.
Modify your traditions.
Trying to maintain the same traditions you had when your ex was around is not helpful. It's an impossibly high bar to keep for yourself. If you and your ex always made the turkey, that’s literally impossible for you to do now. Preserving that tradition will just be a consistently painful reminder that the other half of that tradition is not present. Instead, create a new tradition - you and your child could make the turkey, or you could switch and give turkey making to someone else and you take on pie baking. It's an opportunity to create a tradition that better resonates with your current mindset and lifestyle. And for me, this actually turned out really well! We would always spend the holidays with my parents. But I got the impression my ex didn’t love that. So I was very conscious of the amount of time we would spend with them. Now, I can go over there from dawn till dusk without hearing any complaints! Or, with Christmas, my ex preferred fake trees. So I often felt I needed to plead my case for a real tree. Well now, I’m the only decision maker, so real trees here we come!
Make your child happy.
If making new traditions is a bit too daunting of a task for the moment, just focus on doing whatever makes your child happy. I have found that my daughter is pretty easy to appease. So when all else fails, I know I can make her happy. Making her happy means I’m doing my job right as a mother. And that’s, really, all I need.
Be kind to yourself.
My therapist always says this to me. To me, it means to be compassionate and understanding with myself. So, if you want to cry all day, go for it. If you just can’t deal this holiday season, that’s okay; aim for next holiday season. If you feel perfectly fine and celebratory, don’t question it! Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, and to do whatever you want to do (within reason). Your whole life just changed. You’re allowed time to adjust.
Again, Happy Thanksgiving! I’m so thankful for my daughter, my parents, my God, my health, my friends, and the wonderful connections I’m making with you - my readers.
How have you been getting through the holidays? What works? What doesn’t?