Surviving the Holidays
Every year most of us have a tendency to fantasize about the delights of the holidays, wanting this year to top all previous years. We spend more, decorate more, bake more, and eat and drink more.
What a set up for disappointment.
Divorce makes the holidays even more difficult: other families are having
so much fun and you are not. There’s no money, the kids are at the other
parent’s house, and the sweetest holiday memories can bring the deepest sorrow
and grief. These top ten tips for
“Surviving the Holidays” can help you unload the dread, anxiety, or loneliness
for a time of inner peace and hope.
( 1 ) Have realistic expectations.
Is this the first year you will not have your children around your table? Are you missing the family parties to which you are no longer invited? Let the grief come. This year will be different; don’t try to make it the same as other years. Consider the medical analogy of divorce being like a heart attack; this visual can help you go through the season with much more peace. After a ‘heart attack’, one generally needs more rest, has to drop some former activities, and listens to the body for clues of how far you can push yourself. And as most patients will finally recover, you will, too. The holidays will come again every year. There will be new good times . . . count on it.
( 2 ) Know you may stay home this year.
( 3 ) Do something special for yourself.
( 4 ) Try to do something for someone else.
One of the best ways to come out of our misery is to help someone else. For some, volunteering at a kitchen for Thanksgiving or homeless shelter at Christmas is just the thing they need to bring them back to the reality that God is good, this year will be okay, and that there are many things for which to be thankful. But for others—and perhaps many more—simply remembering to get your kid’s Christmas presents before Christmas Eve will literally be all that you can manage. That’s okay.
( 5 ) Keep it simple.
It’s common to eat, drink, sleep, party, shop, or spend too much to numb painful emotions—any time of the year. The holidays are an annual invitation to overindulge but that often only brings headache, hangovers, hefty bills, and more heartbreak. Having a Christmas tree may cheer you up, but for others it will be too depressing. Sending Christmas cards can be very therapeutic, but for some it is yet another time-consuming and unnecessary expense. Re-examine everything you used to do during the holidays and keep what works and consider getting rid of the rest. Divorce can actually help you reorder your life in better ways you never realized.
( 6 ) Keep in touch with the kids.
( 7 ) Don’t think you must celebrate with your ex.
Yes, it would be very good if you all got along at the holidays—but for many it’s usually a myth, or only happens years after a divorce with hard work on both parent’s parts. If tensions are high and the divorce is new, trying to force a family Christmas can often confuse everyone, especially the kids. After divorce most children secretly (if not openly) hope Mom and Dad will get back together, a natural desire that God put into their hearts. When they see forced or tense cooperation and family connections it can delay their acceptance of reality. False hopes are like sugar spikes, they end in worse depression after the holidays and are like salt to the wound of divorce. Some ex-spouses also secretly hope for reconciliation at the holidays as old memories kindle past affections. As much as this could be a good thing, most of the time this isn’t real, either. Try your best to be kind and supportive and get together if you think it’s best, but don’t force it. Christmas can’t cover the real problems.
( 8 ) Help the children buy a present for their other parent.
Imagine how difficult it would be to try to get a present for your Mom or Dad without any help from the other parent. While divorce changes many things, there are other thing that should never change . . . like your encouraging the kids to freely see, love, honor, and respect their other parent. It can be a cathartic, selfless, and loving act for you to genuinely help your child pick, buy, or make something special for their Mom or Dad. It also shows the child that you don’t hate the other parent when maybe they heard you say you do! But don’t be tempted to take credit for this generosity by adding your name to the gift tag, or in future conversations: “Yes, I helped Zach pick that tie for you because I know how much you like green.” Stay anonymous. The Lord sees what you do in secret.
( 9 ) Draw close to Our Lord.
This shouldn’t be the last of the ten tips because it is the most important, but most people need to know they can manage these holidays before they can settle down emotionally and give thanks to God . . . on Thanksgiving and Christmas. After all, Christmas is about the answer to every man’s prayers for salvation from all that wounds us: God come to us in the flesh. We “divorce” God every day in ways we don’t even realize, and yet he takes us back every moment when we are open and contrite. He is “the good news” who came to us through Mary and greeted the shepherds in the stable. Adore him. Give him your sufferings as the kings gave gold. Let Mary’s kind eyes fall upon you and Joseph’s strong gaze give you hope. Let him love you first! Think of him often during these days that follow the long wait of Advent. The long wait for Love that Never Fails.
( 10 ) Go to Mass and rejoice in your heart.
In “The Catholic’s DIVORCE SURVIVAL Guide” DVD series, Dr. Ray , Father
Steve, and Fr. Calloway all remind us that we are emotional creatures. But
after divorce our wounded emotions can be fickle; it’s our thoughts and beliefs
that are meant to guide us. As Father Steve says about the wild emotions, “Go
higher. Go to what you know to be
true.” On Thanksgiving and Christmas days your emotions may be extremely tender;
the tears may come and the cries of your heart may be muffled by the strains of
“Silent Night”. But come. Come as you are. Let the day come and go and never forget that you are loved. Know that
there is hope—even when you can’t sense or fee l it. Believe it!
O come let us adore Him. God bless you.
Downloadable .pdf file HERE