After a separation or divorce, the first holiday season can bring tremendous stress and sadness, in addition to feeling overwhelmed and frightened. Coping with loss and grief, coupled with changes in familiar patterns and traditions, can magnify your feelings about the separation or divorce during the holiday season. Up to this point, you may have felt you were making progress in moving on with your life, but the holidays seem to emerge with feelings of grief all over again!
The stress of self-doubt
Many people experience regression during this time, which brings discouragement and frustration, as well as doubt about their decision to separate or divorce. Because the holidays bring up emotions about the past and memories of the family unit, couples often think about reconciliation. This is understandable, as it is a highly emotional time — but being prepared for this emotional roller coaster can help reduce some of the stress that the holidays may bring.
A new starting point
Where to begin when planning for the holidays is one of the biggest stressors. You may feel displaced, sad, angry and confused, yet you still want the holidays to be a happy occasion.
Remember, it is normal to feel all of these feelings! You are in uncharted territory. The familiar celebrations of the past have dissolved, and no new traditions have been developed. You are in a state of transition.
Traditions in transition
But the first holiday season after a separation or divorce means you can honor some of the old traditions that may still work, and incorporate them with the start of new traditions. New traditions take time and years to create, and part of the difficulty is that the holidays remind us of the reality that our family is really different. However, remember that although it’s going to be hard in the beginning, it does get easier as time goes on.
Putting the kids first
In terms of forming new traditions, if you have children, start by thinking of what is best for the kids. Usually children want to be with the whole family, so if you and your partner are on good enough terms in the separation, you might carve out a couple of hours where everyone can be together.
If that’s not possible, then try to divide the time between partners as equally as possible. But remember to have fun, make it special, and allow the kids, both young and older, an opportunity to contribute to the creation of new traditions! The family dynamics may have changed, but new memories are always to be made.
The rest of the family
Even if you don’t have children, you have still created traditions around the holidays that might include other family members – parents, siblings, etc. (Don’t forget “honorary” family members — close friends and even pets.)
Every couple and situation is different, so tailor your holiday to what fits for you individually and together. If you are on good enough terms with each other to discuss the holidays, do so. If not, that is okay, too. Remember, there is no one right way to “get through” this first holiday season after a separation or divorce.
The pursuit of imperfection
A lot of feelings will be triggered, so don’t try to make everything happy when it simply isn’t. Memories of past holidays, good and bad, can make us sad… but it’s okay to be sad during the holidays. Unrealistic expectations that we need to be happy during the holiday season only make us feel guilty and bad when we actually experience loneliness and sadness.
Understand that we are all very vulnerable around the holidays, and our emotions are heightened. Therefore, have a good support system and keep it simple. Don’t take on too much, and don’t try to make it “perfect” for the family. Think ahead about what you can handle and start creating new traditions.
Most importantly, be grateful that you have some special people in your life — no matter what shape your family or celebration!