You have just gone through an emotional rollercoaster as you and your partner finalized your divorce. Now, it is the holidays, the season of togetherness. What are you supposed to do? Your family no longer looks the way it used to. If you have kids they are likely struggling with a lot of different emotions as well. Survival is at the top of your to-do list.
Before we get into how you can get through the holidays in one piece, let’s start with giving yourself some grace. You might be feeling pretty crappy right now, and if you aren’t — that’s great! But if you are, understand that this time of the year might be difficult but it is not impossible. Forgive yourself. Ease up on you. It is ok to be struggling with all the changes happening right now.
The good news is: as much as the holidays are made to look like they have to be a certain way, they don’t. They can be exactly what you want them to be. They can be as you make them.
If you are a parent, be open with your children. Share your struggles and give them a safe place to share theirs. We tend as parents to pretend to keep it together, to be the strong ones. After all, we are the parents, the adults. But, when it comes to hard situations like this we want to show our kids that it’s ok to go through hard times. We want to show them they don’t need to hide their feelings.
Talk about how much things “suck,” and then talk about the positives of the situation. Where is the silver lining? There has to be something good you can find.
Ask them what they want to see from this holiday. What do they want to do?
Create Your New Normal
You likely had your own traditions when you and your spouse were together, but now that you aren’t things don’t feel the same. Now is the time to create your new normal. Develop new traditions. Whether it is just you or you and your kids, have fun with it. Maybe you used to host an elegant Christmas Eve party and instead this year you will wear fluffy pajamas and binge watch movies while stuffing your face with popcorn. Maybe you used to take a fancy photo for your holiday cards. Instead this year, you could all wear funny hats, silly sweaters, or PJs.
Do what feels good for all of you. By involving your children in the new tradition-making process you are making the holidays about them. You are validating their feelings and allowing them to take ownership of their new normal.
Communicate with friends, family, and your ex (if they are still in the picture) about what you will and will not do. Maybe you don’t want to exchange gifts with his/her side of the family anymore. Maybe you want to skip out on a family outing that his/her family expects you and the kids to be at. Work out compromises that make sense.
If you don’t want certain topics brought up, let close family know ahead of time so they can curb the conversation. Making your family and friends aware of your wishes can help them to be more sensitive to your needs.
Be careful to not overextend yourself. You are going through a lot and doing enough as it is. It is ok to turn down that invite to the cookie exchange or Aunt Dorothy’s pie making party. This time is about you and your children adjusting to a new normal. Health (and sanity) are a top priority.
Surround Yourself In Support
Spend your time with the people in your life who make you feel good. Now is not the time to waste your energy on toxic people. Lean on your friends and family and get the help you need to sort through emotions. Regular meetings with a mental health professional can teach you healthy coping skills and cheer you on in your positive choices.
It can be tempting to spend your evenings cooped up surrounded in old photographs or crying over romantic comedies and while some of that is ok, social events can also be beneficial. Maybe you don’t feel like going out, instead have your friends over for a movie night. Take care of you and your children. That is what is most important this holiday season.
Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC
Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.