It's been a difficult year to say the least. You're more than ready to say goodbye to 2017; it's been full of more surprises and more pain than you could have ever anticipated. And, you've still got one more hurdle to get through before next year: the holidays. Not just any holidays; holidays as a newly divorcing woman. With kids.
Here are my top five tips to help you navigate your first holiday season with your children while going through a divorce. Remember: this is uncharted territory for your entire family. Don't expect yourself to have all the answers. This is where a little guidance can go a long way.
1. Let everyone know what to expect. In advance. When I'm counseling an teen whose parents are divorcing, or a divorcing woman, I always ask, "what's your understanding of what Christmas will be like?/ what is your kid's understanding of what Christmas will be like?" Often times I first get a blank stare, and then I get a few possibilities about what it might be like.
Hold the phone right there. You, and your kids, will fare much better if you have a clear mental picture of what to expect. Every step of the way. When divorce happens the first thing out the window is communication between the couple. And when communication is out the window confusion and uncertainty ensue.
Know that eventually, you'll have to discuss and figure out the holiday. So the sooner you can do it, and the clearer you can do it, the better. Then sit down with your kids and let them understand clearly:
"Dad is going to take you to Nana's house with him on Christmas Eve, and I'm going to swing by Aunt Sandra's house. He's going to give you some special presents he got just for you then. You'll come back here to sleep and in the morning we'll open presents just the three of us. We'll then all go to Grandma's house together, and dad won't be there, okay? I know this is new. It's new for me too. Is there anything else I can share with you that helps us all look forward to our time together this Christmas?"
2. Don't forego the holiday parties. Do prepare yourself with a response. It's in our nature to want to duck out of social situations when experiencing divorce. Our partner was always by our side as we made the rounds. We didn't have to come alone, and we didn't have to go alone. Plus, what to say to those who ask you where your husband is?
Don't skip out on festivities. You need to get out of the house, and out of the routine with your kids. If you can, arrange to meet a good friend out in the parking lot and walk in together. Think of what will help you feel comfortable while not missing out entirely on a whole season of events.
Many people may not know you're going through a divorce. This is where you can take the time to decide for yourself how much or how little you'd like to share with others as you navigate social situations. You may want to say, "Dave and I are actually just beginning the process of separating. This is new for both of us, so I'm not quite sure yet how to talk about it, but that's why he's not here (being honest) How are your children, by the way? Didn't one just go off to college? (quick topic change that gives the person you're talking to the chance to respond to your disclosure more briefly before answering your question)."
3. Process as a family: This is foreign to many families. And, you're wounded. You're trying to figure out how to deal with your own feelings, never mind know how to deal with the changes as a family.
Often times, parents believe that by minimizing the amount of attention they bring to their divorce, they are also minimizing their kid's chance of noticing the impact. But we all know how perceptive kids are. They notice everything. And they're experiencing it all just as much as we are. There is no such thing as pretending its not happening in hopes that it will help. In fact, this can be quite detrimental.
So, I always encourage parents to talk as openly with their kids as possible throughout the experience: "I know it's been different without Dad here to decorate the house with us. It's not what we're all used to. How has it been for you? Is there something that I can do with you to help it feel like a new routine?"
Especially if you're parenting teens, you may get minimal response. Or even, "I'm FINE! I don't care!" What you need to know is that your words, attempts, and efforts matter hugely in the long run.
4. Give your extended family the heads up on what you want: Your extended family is wondering how to best support you. And if they're left wondering, they might just pick wrong.
Email can really help here. A couple weeks before your family gathering, sit down to gather your own thoughts on how you'd like your extended family to address your divorce (or not) with yourself or with your kids.
This email might say something like,
I am looking forward to seeing you all at Nana's house as we usually do at Hanukkah. I'll be bringing the kids that day, but Dave will not be joining us for the celebrations. Since I'd like to enjoy the day with those I love the most, I write to ask that we all avoid talking about Dave's and my divorce while we're together that day. I'd like the kids to enjoy their time with their favorite cousins, and I'd like to spend the time catching up with each of you about your lives! It's a little bit of a relief to me to focus on something else for just a day. I appreciate your understanding, and please also know that you need not reply to this email. I simply wanted to take the time to help you understand in advance how to help me enjoy the holiday despite this new change in my life.
5. Don't forget to breathe. The kids need presents. And Black Friday already passed. And do you still have access to your joint bank account? You're not even sure. And you have to grocery shop for all those cheeses Dave always picked up for Christmas Eve that you can't really remember the names of now, and....
Shit. This time of the year is stressful in and of itself. And then you've got your heart. And your financial and personal worries. In all of it, you're going to forget to breathe.
So I'm going to teach you a technique used by first responders that reduces anxiety and allows them to walk head-first into high-fear situations. It's called Box Breathing, and it goes like this:
- Breathe in deeply for four counts.
- Hold the breath with full lungs for four counts.
- Release your breath for four counts while flattening your lungs and stomach.
- Hold out the breath for four counts.
You will get through this. You are simply wondering how. But with these five tips, I hope I've given you a few ideas for how to make this new and different holiday season just a little bit easier. You deserve wellness and, I daresay, you (and your kids) deserve joy.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 or email email@example.com to set up your complimentary initial consultation.