Going through one of the most difficult times in your life during the holidays is tough, but it can be tougher when you are alone and away from your children. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or New Year’s, these are all holidays where gathering with family and spending quality time together is celebrated. What happens, however, when you are in the midst of a divorce and you pull the proverbial short straw so that the children are with your spouse/former spouse, or its 2019 and you have the holidays only in even years? In a typical divorce setting, a party alternates the holidays or, if one party celebrates a holiday that the other party does not, the parties can mutually agree to celebrate their respective holidays and give that time to the other party. All that being said, when you were an intact family you celebrated these holidays together and now you don’t. So, now what?
Whether you are looking forward to the alone time, or dreading it, here are some tips to surviving (and thriving) during this holiday season:
Make new traditions
Now, I know that the calendar says that Thanksgiving is on the fourth Thursday in November, but that doesn’t mean you need to celebrate eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the fixings on that day, nor do you need to wait until Christmas Day to open those presents. Your Elf on the Shelf or Mensch on a Bench can be dusted off as early as you want. Truly, it is the experience that you (and your children) make and create that will be remembered and cherished, not the specific day. Make those new traditions - celebrate Thanksgiving on Wednesday (gasp); gather those nearest and dearest and start a “Friends-giving” celebration; and open those presents on December 23rd. After all, if stores are putting out Christmas and Hanukkah holiday décor the day after Halloween, you too can celebrate when you want.
The magic and wonder that you can create will undoubtedly help ease the pain, confusion and maybe anger that your children may be feeling. As you can imagine, your children’s worlds have been turned upside down – as parents, we want to shield our children from, well, everything. You may be divorcing their other parent, but that doesn’t mean you have to divorce the traditions that you created in your once intact household. It may just mean that you are celebrating on a different day or in a different way, and if you think of this situation from your child’s perspective, it may mean double the holidays, double the toys and double the (new) traditions. The goal is to keep the focus on your children, and not on you (self-care is discussed below).
Cherish your alone time
Everyday is an endless cycle of cleaning, working out (for those who need that outlet and can carve out the time), working, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, refereeing (if you have multiple children), chauffeuring (if your children participate in multiple activities), attempts at teleporting (see children and multiple activities), grocery shopping, walking the dog, cleaning, doing laundry, preparing multiple meals, cleaning and then repeating the next day. Just typing that list was exhausting. So, maybe you don’t have Christmas Eve or Christmas Day with your children – why don’t you go watch a movie by yourself or with a friend? Realistically, when is the last time you watched something that wasn’t G/PG rated? Or, gasp, how about you go shopping by yourself? Imagine a trip to Target without your kids. Bullseye! Or call your friends to set up a night out, or game night. After all, laughter is the best medicine. Or, if you are like me, maybe just sitting at home, and online shopping or binge-watching Outlander or The Crown is your cup of tea. Whatever it is, while you are not with the children, you have the opportunity to catch up on the ever-exhausting list above (nap anyone?) or you can actually cherish your alone time. Enjoy it!
I am hard-pressed to see a charity turn away volunteers, shelters turn away gently used blankets, clothing and coats (especially in what will presumably be a harsh Winter), or a children’s organization decline unwrapped toys. Sadly, the reality is that there are people less fortunate than you and they can always use your help. Go to https://www.jerseycares.org/ or check out Best of NJ’s article https://bestofnj.com/features/family/best-places-to-volunteer-in-nj/ for volunteer opportunities near you. Whether you volunteer with your children or go by yourself, the impact on you, your children, and most importantly those who you are helping will be profound. You will have a greater appreciation for what you have. Taking your kids to buy toys for other children, or having them clean out their closet to donate those items they no longer need will also allow the children to feel like they are a part of giving back. It is also a perfect opportunity to teach your children to be appreciative for what they have and to foster a giving and thankful heart. After all, Hanukkah Harry and Santa are watching…