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Divorced or Separated? 6 Tips for Surviving Your First Holiday

Holiday Table

I’m staring right down the barrel of my second holiday season as a divorced person. I’ve been bracing for it since I saw the first pumpkins at the grocery store. This is the season of family and friends and creating memories Norman Rockwell-style. It’s a much different story when you are newly separated or divorced. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s are coming at you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. If you could borrow Dorothy’s red shoes to click your heels three times and be transported to January 2nd, you would!

Thanksgiving was always “my holiday”, and I loved it. I loved cooking delicious food and creating a warm experience for family and friends. I would prepare food for days and make sure the linens were freshly pressed — everything had to look perfect. I loved sitting in my dining room the night before, looking at my dining room table set with my wedding crystal and china sparkling in the dimly lit room. This was the moment when I would happily anticipate what was to come the next day. Reality rarely lived up to this feeling, however, especially toward the end of my marriage. There was always a lot of goodness in the day, topped off by too much stress, alcohol, bickering and too little teamwork and basic respect. By the time everyone left, I would feel deflated or downright depressed. Everything looked like it should to have the makings of a perfect holiday, but when the marriage just isn’t there, it’s really hard for everything to feel like you know it should.

Last year was the first time in 10 years that I didn’t host. Not only that, I didn’t have my kids. I woke up alone on Thanksgiving. In years past, I would wake up early and turn on the Macy’s parade for the kids as I made stuffing. Not this time. My brother hosted Thanksgiving, and, for the life of me, I have no idea how I made it through those lonely hours until it was time to go to his house (when normally I was cooking, hosting and busy with my family and kids). The day had the same cast of characters it had every year, except this time I was a party of one, not four. I had lost my identity. I had no husband, no kids and “my holiday” was no longer mine. I was the only person over the age of 3 who wasn’t part of a couple. I’m not going to lie — that sucked. That said, I was incredibly grateful to be with everyone that day.

To add a little salt to the wound, my ex-husband hosted Thanksgiving in my old house, on my old dining room table set with my wedding china. He shared this day with my children, ex-mother-in-law and his new girlfriend. I wonder if she sat in my chair…

This year is a much better story. I am once again hosting Thanksgiving, and, for the first time, in my new home. Again, we have all of the same people, but now I have my kids. Again, I will be the only one “uncoupled”, which I’m sure will stab me here and there, especially as I’m nursing wounds from a recent break-up. That said, I am looking so forward to it, and I feel like it will be a wonderful day. I’m not expecting a “Norman Rockwell” holiday (I don’t remember his paintings showcasing the single mom on holidays or any day), but I think it will feel more like it, which is all that has ever really mattered.

If you are newly separated or divorced, you are probably somewhere between wanting to stick your head in the sand or filled with angst, and it could change by the hour. I encourage you to think about what is coming and how you’ll get through it. My only rule is don’t do what you think you should do or what others want you to do. If you aren’t comfortable with a situation, don’t do it. You need to take care of you. Period.

The holidays will never be the same. They just won’t. But, that is likely not an entirely bad thing. You may even discover you enjoy the holidays more when the stress of a bad marriage doesn’t cast a cloud over the occasion. That all sounds well and good, but how do you actually get through this? Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Celebrate on a different day. If you don’t have your kids on the actual holiday, celebrate on another day. Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner the day or weekend before. The event is what is important, not the day on the calendar.
  2. Serve others. Helping others can really lift you up when you are down. Consider going to a shelter and serving Thanksgiving dinner to people in need.
  3. Retreat to nature. Go for a hike and relax in the beauty of the outdoors. Find peace in the solitude.
  4. Travel. If you want to simply escape the day or long weekend — do it. Escape from your normal environment to change the dynamics of past family holidays. I have friends that either hit Las Vegas or Mexico every year they don’t have their kids. They have actually come to really look forward to those years!
  5. Exercise. Get your day started with doing a 5K Turkey Trot, yoga class or a long walk. Even though this may be the last thing you want to do, it will probably make the rest of your day just a bit better.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Show yourself the same respect and kindness that you would to a friend who is hurting. Give yourself the permission slip to do whatever it is you feel you need to do.

You can find many more helpful tips at Untangle The Knot. We offer many more ideas for the lifelines that can help you make it through the rough days, how staying connected to important parts of your life can provide you a much needed anchor, and considerations for holidays to incorporate into your parenting agreement — just to name a few.

The approaching holidays may create terrible feelings initially, but it will get easier over time. That’s what I’m told, and I am counting on it!

I would love to hear your comments on your experience with holidays as a newly separated or divorced person. How did you get through it? What are your plans for this year? There is no rulebook for how to do this. Let’s support each other through to the other side!