Many divorced parents look toward the holidays with a sense of dread when they are going to be without their children. It is very difficult and painful to see families celebrating together when the most important people in your life are not with you. You may also still be grieving the divorce, and this is just another reminder of the family structure that you once enjoyed being changed permanently. It is normal to feel somewhat depressed during this time of year, and you are not alone. There are many out there like you who are suffering through the same type of situation—and others who are experiencing loneliness or loss for a variety of reasons during the holiday season. That does not necessarily change your feelings, so what can you do to help yourself?
- Force yourself to make plans. While tempted as you may be to turn down invitations from other families because you might feel “out of place” without your children and it will be too painful for you to watch others enjoy their children—it is still wonderful to have human connection on the holiday. You may surprise yourself and actually enjoy being independent and free from responsibility as you watch other parents struggle with getting their children to behave at the table! You may also find the quality time with other children in your family to be very valuable. After all, your nieces and nephews usually have to share your attention with your own children—you may truly enjoy the special time you are getting with other’s children without distraction!
- If you are in a good Co-Parenting relationship, see if you can get creative with the holiday. No one says that Thanksgiving has to be celebrated at a specific time (except maybe your extended family). Educate others in your family on the need for creativity and consider splitting the day with your other Co-Parent. Maybe one of you gets to watch the football game with the kids and the other has them for the meal. Maybe one parent has the children for the meal and the other has the children for dessert time. There are ways to make this work for everyone if you are both committed to what is in the best interest of your children.
- Celebrate Thanksgiving on a different day if you are not going to be with your children. Again, there is no law that states one can only sit down with family and eat turkey and stuffing on a specific Thursday. Consider celebrating the Sunday before the holiday so that you feel you had the opportunity to share this experience with your children even if they will be with the other Co-Parent on the “official” holiday.
- Seek out support as needed. Friends, therapists, family members—whoever it is that provides you comfort (but does not allow you to spiral into feeling sorry for yourself) are the people you need to reach out to for help. Do not feel you are ruining their holiday with your grief—these are people who want to see you through this and help you get to the other side.
- Acceptance is important. It is so easy to fall into patterns of “poor me” at this time of year and spend your energy on being angry with the other Co-Parent. Divorce is painful for everyone, but especially for your children. They need to see that you are strong and excited for them to spend time with the other side of their family. Leaving a parent behind feeling riddled with guilt about the good time they are going to have is emotionally damaging for a child. Putting on an act in front of them is helpful if you are having a hard time—but they may see through this—so it is even more important that you work through your grief and anger and move to a place of acceptance. Focus on the holidays you will have them for, and try to make your experience without them one that is special in its own way—even if that means you Netflix your favorite show and eat ice cream!