Five Tips for Surviving the Holidays as a Divorced Parent

How to give the holidays new meaning for you and your children.

I remember my first holiday without my children.

It was no fa la la.

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.

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.

2. Decide whom do you spend the holidays with when you have your kids.  Does it seem sad, just being alone with your kids around a table?  Who among your good friends is considered family too?  This time around, you get to choose who you are going to be with on the holidays.  Open your door to strays if you are hosting.  Do you have any elderly friends who might like to come for dinner?  Invite them.  Open your hearth, your home, your heart.  You know what it's like to be alone.

3. Decide where you and the kids will celebrate and get creative.  Choose a new location, plan an activity or attend an event.  Instead of staying home all day, go ice-skating, caroling, or take a hike at a nearby park.  Consider swapping your home for another family's house (try Home and take the kids on a trip to spend time together someplace else.  The spirit of adventure combined with novelty and -- let's not forget, humor! -- can create fantastic moments and priceless memories.

4. Decide how you will spend the holidays when you don't have your kids.  Find community with fellow divorced parents or friends and cook together or go away on retreat.  Open your mind to being a stray in the years you aren't celebrating with your kids.  Find support so you can laugh when you are feeling the tug to cry, if things hurt.  Talk aloud about your experience and your feelings with people who understand. Honor them and appreciate those who take you in.

5. Accept that you may be alone.  In the years when you can't be with your family or surround yourself with friends, and / or you would rather be alone to process all that you are going through, be at peace with this, too.  Do something different as a gift to yourself.  Maybe find a place to volunteer.  You know what they say about busy hands?  Give and get outside yourself and when you come home to your four walls, those walls may speak differently to you.

For my first solo, I went to a double feature movie that began at midnight, Christmas Eve.  And you know what?  There were so many single people in that theater that night that I realized, damn, there are a lot of people like me, people who don't fit into any holiday gift box.  And I didn't feel as alone anymore.  I realized as more holidays passed, that the sooner I took control and decided what the holidays mean to me, the sooner I could get on with living and celebrating what counts.

At SAS~Support and Solutions for Women, we know what it's like to be overwhelmed during the holiday season.  For more information about how to start new holiday traditions that you and your family can look forward to every year, contact us for your free private consultation.