In the 21 years that I was married, family and holiday traditions became a cornerstone of our collective identity. So when that all changed after the divorce, it took a lot of tears, wine and hard wiring to rebuild meaningful holidays. If you’re in a similar situation this holiday season, maybe a couple of these ideas will help.
Join a support group
You know how one minute you’re in a happy and fulfilling marriage and the next you find out that your husband of 20 years has been cheating on you with someone 10 years younger? Well I do. I went from country club wife and mother of high school students to a single, 39-year-old “cougar.” In this weekly feature, I will share with you all the mind-boggling, head-scratching, is-this-someone’s-idea-of-a-joke moments from my so-called single life. Consider this your private invitation to my tremendous learning curve…
After my divorce, I joined a support group through my church called “Divorce Care.” Regardless of what group you find, jump in on something — even if it’s a group of divorced moms from your kids’ school or from your neighborhood. You will all help each other through a difficult time, just by relating to others who are in a similar place. It’s easier to manage challenges when you don’t feel like you’re the only one struggling.
If you’re recently divorced, keeping that ugly two-headed monster — depression — from darkening your door is going to be a difficult task. The first sign will be when you just want to curl up in the fetal position during the holidays with a gallon of ice cream in your lap while wearing flannel pajamas that should have gone through the washing machine two weeks ago. You are not going to feel like doing volunteer work and going to parties, but do it anyway. It will help you fight depression and keep you distracted. If you’re distracted, you’re less likely to wallow in what is no longer.
Run away from home
I ran away from home my first post-divorce Thanksgiving. For the last 20 years, my family had celebrated Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law’s with 30 members of the family. People traveled from all over the country for this time-honored event. For the first year after my divorce, I declined the invitation to attend (mostly because my ex-husband’s mistress was going to be there). My children wanted and needed to go. I knew staying by myself was a bad idea, so when a friend offered to pay for a plane ticket to spend Thanksgiving with her, I accepted. It was still a bizarre and lonely time, even with my beloved friend hovering over me, but it was better than sitting at home sulking.
Surround yourself with friends
Hopefully you have a network of treasured girlfriends you can lean on during this time. You may feel like a burden, but don’t. I used to tease my friends right after my divorce that I was going to alienate all of them with my “Debbie Downer” tales of woe and drama, but each of them assured me that was not the case. They listened to my bulls***, sympathized and re-filled my wine glass. I am here to testify that I absolutely would not have survived this time in my life, especially the holidays, had I not leaned on my friends.
I was the kind of mom and wife who lived for the magic of the holidays, so when all of that was tainted with a cruel affair and divorce, I felt like my holidays (like so many other parts of my life) had been taken from me. For the first time in my life, I hated the holidays. I didn’t want to decorate or shop or put up the tree or make merry in any way. I wanted to stick my head in the sand and wake up on Jan. 2 so I could resume my post-divorce, post-holiday life. But I knew that the only people who were more pained than I was were my children. I had to suck it up for them, and I did. Luckily a lot of the cookie baking and decorating traditions never really included their dad, so for us to power through those events without him wasn’t that different. We did switch up a few things. I got it in my head that it was time my kids learned how to make a holiday meal, so for the first time, my family worked together on the turkey and all the side dishes. There was a lot of laughter and togetherness, and though it wasn’t the same, we survived.
That is what you need to focus on if this is your first post-divorce holiday — just survive. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Let yourself off the hook if your holidays aren’t as filled with cheer as they normally are. Remember there is always next year. People are going to give you a pass this year. Just do your best to cobble something together that helps you and your kids (if you have them) get through your first holidays together and in one piece.