The holidays can be bleak after your marriage ends. It seems like every holiday movie, TV show and song is about togetherness, which is tough to hear after devoting so much energy to splitting apart. Your holiday routine dissolved with your marriage and you have no idea you’re supposed to do, so you’re thinking about holing up in your new efficiency apartment and getting into the spirit of the season. And by “spirit of the season,” we mean the case of vodka you bought in a holiday sale.
But going on a bender leads to crying in your eggnog. Moreover, if you’re a dad, your absence can devastate your kids. Patra Sinner, a family law attorney practicing in North and South Carolina, said divorcees should remember that kids don’t take holidays lightly.
“As one of my clients said, the holidays are kind of the Super Bowl for kids,” Sinner said. “This is a big deal for them. You don’t want to disappoint them.”
But even without kids, you can’t sit out the holidays. Post-divorce loss and uncertainty will grow to fill the void. While your first holiday after a divorce won’t be easy, accepting change and focusing on the future will help you manage the stress and anxiety. Here’s Sinner’s advice for divorcees facing their first post-marriage holiday.
Create New Holiday Traditions
Holidays with your ex were a pain but they were full. You had obligations, people and events. Now, your holiday is as empty as the center of a Christmas wreath. You need to make new holiday traditions. Sinner said many divorced dads lead their kids in family activities mom was once responsible for, like baking cookies. Don’t be daunted: baking’s simpler than you think. “Get a recipe book,” Sinner said. “It’s possible.”
Even if you don’t have kids, you need to find things to do and places to go. Reaching out to people can help you adjust to post-married life.
“This is a time where you want to really very quickly start building your support group,” Patra said.
With more single people holding family-free Friendsgiving celebrations, why not have a Friendsmas or Friendsukkah in the winter? Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, rally some college buddies for a ski trip that you’ll make an annual event. Just find something that lets you be active and around people.
Find New Ways of Giving
You won’t be flush with cash right after your divorce. But if money’s too short for lavish gifts, your holiday can still be rich. Sinner suggested finding local volunteer opportunities during the holidays. Helping others can make you happy and give your kids a valuable perspective.
“You can volunteer and let the children know that even though they’re experiencing a hard time, there are other families going through hard times,” Sinner said.
Keep as Positive as You Can
No one expects a recently divorced guy to brim with holiday cheer but dwelling in negativity will only make the situation worse. And as hard as the season is for you, it’s harder for children. Keeping negativity in check is one of the best gifts a newly divorced dad could give them.
“If that’s the sole emotion in your household during the holidays, then you’re definitely projecting that onto the kids and they’re going to feel it,” Sinner said, adding, “even if you don’t feel it or the ex-spouse doesn’t even care, the children will feel it and they will appreciate that in the long run.”
Stay Connected (When it Makes Sense)
If you became close to members of your spouse’s extended family, you’ll want to maintain those bonds. As we mentioned earlier, it’s good to have friendly support during this time. Just clear it with your ex first.
“If you’re still close to the ex’s extended family or parents, I think you have to have conversations,” Sinner said. “You can ask if it’s okay to stop by and say hello to your parents during the holidays or drop off some cookies.”
Try to Accommodate Your Ex’s Traditions When Possible
If your wife spent the holidays with her family during your marriage, she’ll still do that after the marriage is over. That’s fine if you don’t have kids or if her folks live across town. But if grandma and grandpa’s house are hours away, that means dad’s out of the picture for the holiday. Sinner has found that some dads are okay with experiencing their kids’ holiday through text messages and Facetime conversations. But even divorced dads who aren’t completely comfortable with long distance Christmases should consider it. It’s not the last time you’ll negotiate with your ex. Being flexible now shows good faith and could help future negotiations.
“If you know there’s one special Christmas dinner every year that your ex-spouse does with their family, maybe you’d be willing to accommodate that,” Sinner said. “In return, they might be willing to accommodate something that you want to do, or give extra time if you wanted to travel.”
The bottom line is that you’re going through a major life change and major life changes always take getting used to. With the right attitude, you can use the holidays to help you get used to your new life. It’ll be tough but the next holiday season will be far easier.
And, finally, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel if you want it: You’re looking at your first New Year’s Eve as a single man in a long while. Drink some champagne. Make some mistakes. Enjoy the freedom. Just don’t call your ex at midnight. Come on buddy, you’re stronger than that.
– Originally written by Adam Bulger for The Plunge