Life is not ‘Norman Rockwell-esque’ with the perfect marriage, perfectly dressed son and daughter, a well-behaved dog, and a golden-skinned turkey, roasted to perfection sitting on the decorated holiday table. But this was never real life.
Perhaps your holidays as a married parent were filled with tension and fake happiness, maybe you have been looking forward to this first holiday season separated from your partner for longer than you can remember. There is also the other side of the spectrum; you may have been blindsided by your current situation. Either way, this holiday is going to be different, especially when children are involved.
Handling Your First Holiday as a Divorced Parent
First and foremost, compromise is going to be the key to a successful (if that word can be used here) holiday. There will need to be compromise from both sides of the divided partnership, which can get ugly fast. As a friend says, “If compromising with him were easy, we’d still be married!” Celebrating Christmas with the kids after a divorce is hard, as no one gets 100% of the time anymore. At a time when you are already feeling all of the negative things, you are forced to be civil, or ruin the holiday experience.
- Process everything in your time. There is no rush to getting to a happy place. No one says you must be completely happy by Christmas.
- Understand that you can have multiple emotions at the same time. You can feel disgust and anger while still celebrating and being happy. Although, pushing the negative feelings aside for a few hours will help with your memories of the holiday.
- Try to remember that the person you are separated from is the father to your children, and they will have a relationship together for the rest of their lives (if they both choose to). It is in your best interest to be the peacemaker for a few days.
- Create a plan with your children’s father for the holiday and days leading toward it – then stick with it. Decide what time the kids will leave for their father’s home and then be open with the kids about it all. This is going to be weird for them too. The more you communicate, the easier everything will be.
- Talk about gift ideas with your children’s father, as you don’t want double items bought. This should also help keep the gift giving non-competitive.
- Purchase a gift for your children’s father. It should not be extravagant, but the gesture shows your kids, your ex-partner and you that you will be okay; that it all will be okay someday.
- Continue any traditions that you already have, and take the chance to start something new with the kids. A gift on Christmas Eve? A New Year’s Countdown a few days early? You will make this holiday special for yourself as well as the kids.
- Find a support system to keep you busy. Being around happy couples may not be what you want, but finding friends to keep your spirits up is a must.
- Watching the kids leave and being alone will be hard this year. You may be devastated, but there is an opportunity here to do something special for yourself. You can choose to lie around in your pj’s and eat Christmas cookies paired with the cheapest wine while binge watching Netflix – and that is okay! Or you can find something that makes you happy and start a new tradition for yourself.
Advice from a good friend:
“I think I was stunned and in shock for the first holiday. Similarly, I spent the first six months of solo weekends in my pajamas, binge-watching Netflix. Which I know sounds *awesome* to all the beleaguered, exhausted moms out there, but really, it wasn't. There's nothing more unnatural than being away from your kids against your will. The most helpful thing I had was a group of friends (comrades?) who were going through the same thing. No one gets it unless you've been there, and we were all reeling. It was at least helpful to talk to people who understood first-hand.” -Lara
Remember that there is a bigger picture than this moment. Your children may or may not remember this holiday, but you will. Being prepared as best you can, and then just wading through it all will help you come out feeling whole. It may not be easy, but you will survive – and possibly create some amazing new memories throughout.