As we move toward and into December, we are off and running with the holiday marathon. It’s a chaotic time for many, but the stress and overwhelm are on steroids for those of us divorcing. So, in anticipation of what you are going through, here are a few things to remember to give you the divorce support you need so you can enjoy the spirit without the drama and exhaustion.
The holidays + divorce = feeling horrible
You’re not alone. This is the start of the year when people begin to feel depressed, and this includes those who aren’t even going through divorce. We put these crazy expectations on ourselves as an attempt to make up for what we perceive to be our failures and shortcomings from the rest of the year. We are going through the motions, trying to decorate the perfect house, hold the perfect party, give the perfect gifts to our children and loved ones, all the while pretending everything is fine. It’s wonderful. It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But the truth is . . . our foundations are crumbling, and we’re desperate to maintain control of the life we thought we knew, the life we’ve invested in. If you bear this and the following things in mind, you will get through this crazy time with grace.
Lose the BS illusions of what the holidays are supposed to be
Nothing in life is perfect. Yet, for some reason many of us feel we must have flawless decorations and meals and gifts to truly celebrate. The media has perpetuated this false ideal. And so have we. There are infinite Pinterest boards and shows on the Food Network that love to remind us that our own celebrations will never be adequate.
But nobody can live up to those impossible ideals, which during the holidays, serve as a double-whammy for those coping with separation and divorce . The holidays have a way of reminding us, especially when our marriage is on the rocks, that we have failed to live up to the dreams and visions we had for ourselves — it’s like the season is twisting the knife a little more into our already aching hearts.
So, forget those unattainable standards! Although you are going though a rough spot and the timing is horrible because of the holiday season, you have been given a second chance. You now have the opportunity to create your own picture of the holidays — you now have the chance to breathe again and be independent again and find the things that give you comfort. And that doesn’t have to include unattainable ideals.
Boundaries are beautiful
For many, the chance to spend time with family spanning multiple generations can be magical: Grandma makes her delicious fudge, your crazy uncle tells his college story for the 18th time, and everybody laughs about how the secret ingredient in the mashed potatoes was mayonnaise.
But when you’re splitting up, the questions and prodding from family members, well-meaning or not, can make you feel like a torture victim. If the thought of explaining a separation or divorce has been causing you to lose sleep lately, remember this: You have the right to remain silent. You are not obligated to tell anybody anything if you don’t want to share. Of course, there will be the common refrains from your usual boundary-breakers, like “But I’m your mother,” or “We’re family!” But it’s your life and your choice whether or not to share details about the state of your marriage, whether you’re dating again, how the process is coming along, etc.
Remember — this is your life — and it is your decision from whom you seek support. No one, including your family members, is entitled to know the details unless you want to share.
Own this time
Nobody says that you have to spend hours and dollars shopping, decorating, and making the perfect crudités. There are no laws requiring you to be stuck in traffic or to be stressed about delayed flights en-route to visit family who only cause you more stress and anxiety. Ask yourself, “What is it that I want to do?” and if you have children, think about what is it that will make them happy.
Focus on comforting things — not your self-imposed obligations
During divorce and the holidays, we tend to forget about taking care of ourselves and doing the things that we actually love. Why don’t you make a simple holiday joy list as a starting point? Some of my favorites include:
- Walking or driving around to see all the festively decorated store windows and houses in my area
- Watching my local tree or Hanukah lighting celebrations
- Caroling with friends or watching holiday movies together
- Spending time with people I actually want to spend time with, and not those who will judge me
As you write your own list, you will notice that you probably don’t have the following:
- Being scrutinized by prodding family guests
- Feeling completely exhausted because I tried to do too much to make everything perfect
- Spending too much time and money on making things perfect
Worried about your children missing out? Fear not!
What do you remember from your childhood? I honestly don’t remember the expensive gifts that I thought I couldn’t live without, or the big labor-intensive meals, and chances are, your children won’t either. I do remember, however, the simple sugar cookies my siblings and I loved to decorate with my Mom, and watching “The Sound of Music” on Christmas night. Although it may not seem like it now, it is the love you show to your family (and to yourself) that will leave the lasting impression . What simple ritual or joy do you remember from your own childhood? Can you do it with your kids this year?
This is finite
Understand that the holidays, as well as the pain and stress you are feeling with your split, will be over soon. It may seem like a never-ending nightmare right now, but the day will come when the drama is over. It may not be by Christmas or New Year this year, but it will come. And it is you who has the power to mindfully navigate through the craziness and rise above it, instead of getting sucked into the void.
The best way to survive this month is to recognize that you are going through a “hot mess” right now and not to punish yourself. With kindness and self-care, you too can receive those tidings of comfort and joy.
Martha Bodyfelt’s website, Surviving Your Split, is dedicated to helping readers through a stress-free and drama-free divorce. For more great strategies, sign up at Surviving Your Split. You can also email Martha at [email protected]