Surviving the Holidays Without the Kids

One of the toughest times of year for family members following divorce is the holiday season. The first year after my divorce was hard for many reasons, but the main one was that I wasn’t able to spend the entire holiday with my children.

Since my ex-husband and I shared custody of my children, they navigated their time between two houses and I missed them. Over time, it became easier as we carved out our own traditions such as going out to brunch on the days that they had dinner with their father.

Nonetheless, we needed to be creative and cease the time that we had and enjoy each moment. While shared parenting provides children the opportunity to spend time with both of their parents and can enhance a child’s feeling of being loved and sense of security, holiday time presents unique challenges. Another situation that impacts divorced families, is when one or both parents live in different states and their children rotate holidays with them.

Let’s face it, it’s a challenge for parents to create new traditions and to let go of grudges and bad memories of past holidays. For the recently divorced parent, the holidays can be an emotional, stressful, and perhaps a lonely time of year – especially if they don’t have new traditions and support systems in place.

Kara, a single mom in her late forties put it like this: “My house felt empty and entirely too quiet. I’d put music on loud and try to drown out the silence, but remember crying myself to sleep my first Christmas Eve without my kids.”

Many divorced parents who share custody with their ex-partner or don’t have visitation with their kids, experience anguish and an intense sense of loss around the holiday season. However, there are ways you can cope with these feelings and get through it with a sense of integrity and solace.

Knowing that you did the right thing by encouraging your kids to spend time with their other parent and you wished them well, can help you survive the holiday season.

John, a fifty-year old newly divorced dad with three teenage boys reflects: “Sure I missed my boys when they had to wake up super early Christmas Day and race over to their moms to open gifts, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. They love their mom and she’s an important part of their lives.”

Here are 5 ways to survive the holidays when you’re alone:

1. Don’t play the role of victim and accept that while it can be hard to be without your kids around the holidays, it will get easier over time. Further, you can control your reactions to loss by substituting positive self-talk for negative. For instance, rather than telling yourself that life has dealt you a bad hand you can tell yourself “I am getting better at coping with my loss every day and can face the challenges that come my way.”
2. Practice self-compassion as you explore new traditions over the holidays for yourself. For instance, volunteer at a soup kitchen, visit a friend who you have not seen for a while, cook a special meal, exercise, or binge watch your favorite holidays movies.
3. Adopt a positive mindset and attitude about the holidays. Remember that spending time with your extended family and friends doing enjoyable activities can be rewarding during the holiday season. Light a fire in your fireplace, go for a fast walk, or visit a coffee shop and enjoy a steaming cup of coffee or hot cocoa by yourself or with a friend.
4. Remember that your children are not possessions and that they have their own tender feelings to deal with during the holiday season. Do your best not to put them in the middle by making them a messenger between their parents or asking them too many questions about their time with their other parent. Be sure to never bad-mouth their other parent.
5. Remember to laugh. Laughter is one of the best ways to change a negative mood to a positive one. Take time out of every day to de-stress by doing things that you all enjoy – listen to music, work on a puzzle, or participate in other fun activities.

Creating new holiday memories isn’t easy but it’s well worth the effort. You can build new traditions and memories of the holidays that will endure the test of time and nourish yourself. The holiday season doesn’t have to be a time of stress overload. Don’t forget to communicate with your children in creative ways such as skype or text. Most of all, remember to keep the focus on what is most important – sustaining a positive relationship with your children.

Truth be told, a divorce can shake your foundation and make you question your own judgment. You might find yourself second-guessing yourself and feeling blue over the holidays if you’re separated from your children, even for a short period of time. The world as you have come to know and experience it is suddenly turned upside down and it’s important to focus on positive things and let go of the negative thoughts that keep you from enjoying life.

Rebecca Solnit, in A Field Guide to Getting Lost, said this about letting go: “When everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.” In fact, your heartbreaks can teach you many things. Losing those things you love, can give you depth and substance to my life. As you accept your losses, you will be better able to face being alone and to make it another meaningful chapter in my life.

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on amazon.

Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.