I remember my first holiday without my children.
It was no fa la la.
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I was accompanying my daughter to her dad's apartment a few days in advance of the holiday -- he had custody that first Christmas -- when my daughter asked me to wait at his door. The door swung open slowly and as I glanced inside, the view simultaneously quieted me and slapped me hard. I saw a couple of pieces of furniture and an aluminum silver Christmas tree in the living room. The tree was sparsely decorated. I saw it had no tree skirt. It looked like a haphazard display in the window of the Dollar Store.
Then the door closed.
Moments later, my daughter returned, and said, "It's alright I don't need anything else. I'll see you later," and she kissed me and locked the door shut. I stood frozen in the hall.
Then I went home to my "new" apartment and cried. I called my friend Ellen, one of my few friends who was also divorced. Ellen listened to me as my voice cracked, as I told her how bleak my Ex's apartment looked, how sad the tree was, and how the whole scene had me falling apart. "Look at what I have done to my kids," I wailed. "I've ruined everything. I was Santa Claus!"
"Get a hold of yourself," Ellen told me. "A home is more than just four walls."
The holidays can be hell. After you experience the separation, the pain, the grief, the unfairness of it all, you realize that being alone for the holidays can be one of the biggest, hardest, saddest things in this world.
However what you do with this revelation is up to you. You can make the holidays a misery you contend with every year, or a newly found opportunity. Just like a home is more than just four walls, a holiday is more than a tree, a gift, or a turkey. You have the chance to recreate what the holidays mean for you and for your children. You're not just buying the Norman Rockwell commemorative plates anymore.
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Here are my five heartfelt tips:
1. Decide what you want the holidays to mean for you and your children. How do you want your children to remember holidays spent with you? How do you want to celebrate important days? For example, maybe you are hosting, but you don't want to be hostage to all the cooking. Remind yourself that the holidays are about the people involved and make the holiday dinner "potluck" so everyone who comes must make or bring a dish they can tell a story about.