Surviving the Traditional Family Holidays After a Divorce


American holidays - oh, it seems that this is the time when even the biggest nonconformists remember about traditions. This is the hour of marketers - the design of any public space from fashionable restaurants up to many gas stations intrusively reminds you of what particular mood you should be right now. Special menu items, flavors, smells and, of course, music from every corner - everything works to create the "right" atmosphere.


The whole world around you just shouts "Holidays! Traditions!", hinting that something is wrong with you if you don't give in to this hype. The splendor of the decorations, Christmas shopping, family sweaters, and “It's a Wonderful Life” in the cinemas in December, heart-shaped-anything and love songs in February, and then it’s Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and so on and all over again - can it be the worse time to be in no mood to enjoy the life? Anyway, can it be the worse time to deal with a post-divorce period?

No, it's not easy, and it shouldn't be so. Just let yourself admit that shitty times happen and neither you nor anybody else is obliged to pretend that this is not so - no matter what is the day or month. Everyone has right on their true feelings and emotions. However, there is still a lot of how everyone who experiences a divorce in the "joyful season" can help themselves. This year the holidays will be different - not bad, not wrong, but just different. Please just pay attention to some details in advance, make a new plan, and be ready to meet the new life in a new year, without hesitations and regrets.

  1. Set the boundaries
You may not be in the mood to make plans for the holidays, you may be at a loss if you used to really enjoy your family traditions, therefore it may not be easy to create new ideas. Start not with what you want to do, but with what you, vice versa, want to avoid. In psychology, this is called “setting boundaries” - to understand what you accept and what not, and to act within these frames, not yielding to persuasion and not accepting invitations just because of courtesy.

It is worth considering and eliminating all possible triggers, up to such trifles as the menu or soundtrack. This may seem ridiculous, but in the end, it often means a lot, especially in those families where the traditions were of great value - especially their own, personal and personalized ones. At the same time, it does not even matter whether you feel yourself a victim of the situation or are sincerely happy about the finalizing a divorce - nostalgia is really capable of confusing, and a divorce is a stressful scene not only for those who would like to avoid it.

Share your preferences with your friends and relatives, warn if there are some gatherings and parties you would rather not attend or some topics you would prefer not to be brought up at the dinner table? Discuss all of these boundaries beforehand. Neither your friends nor family should read your mind. They may be sensitive to your needs but if you deny that there is something uncomfortable for you they are most likely to play along - so after, don't be offended.

2. Limit your isolation
The desire to isolate yourself, ignore any celebration, and instead of it, to have some time alone with silly movies, ice-cream or alcohol (in kind of Bridget Jones style, oh damn!) is actually quite understandable and attractive in many ways. That's the way people are - sometimes we love to feel sorry for ourselves. Again, it does not matter who “in fact” is a victim in this particular breakup, as a new page of life is always stress and a reason to think about many things. And it is not always easy to meet this stage with a wide smile on your face.

Give yourself one day for all of this. Feel your emotions, get into the deep beautiful melancholy of everything that's happened, enjoy it, and move on. Plan meetings with people with whom you can be yourself, think about whom you can call at a difficult moment, finally, who or what can be a pleasant reason to get out.
3. Don't deprive your child of a great holiday
if you have children, then it’s probably not a good idea to completely abandon the celebration.
Most likely, it would be difficult for them,  as often, the children are still waiting for the holidays which could turn out to be a quite pleasant respite in the midst of all the current changes. But of course, the most important thing that can create a good atmosphere for them is your attention and desire to support their ideas - not obsession, detachment, and certainly, not attempts to buy your way out of this holiday-stuff.

Focus on your children's wishes. Decide together if there are some favorite traditions which don't bring some painful reminders and so may be kept. Along with it, inspire them to create some new traditions, supporting their ideas. In general, create your own new celebration mix. You may try to cook the new special holiday meal, or visit/invite the family or friends you couldn't spend a holiday with because you used to visit your in-laws, and so on.

4. Volunteer
Helping others is a proven and good way to distract from your own problems. Be ready that someone will surely say that it is necessary to help not on holidays, but always and for no reason, and this is not at all altruism, but on the contrary, egoism - to help other people just to make yourself feel better.
Let it be so. Yes, you really feel bad now, yes, you may see the volunteering as a temporary relief pill for your post-divorce time, so what? Anyway, you can really do something helpful for people in trouble. No one should care about your motive while you are sincere and trying to help. This is just not their business.

So, volunteering is a good idea both practically and psychologically. However, it is important to prepare in advance, as many organizations require that volunteers register for several weeks or days. You can find opportunities online, or contact your community center/church/synagogue and so on. Invite friends to work at a charity event, or bring your children.

5. Give a new meaning to the holidays
Foremost, remind yourself that over time, it will definitely get easier. May sound awfully trite, but it's true. Second, change your holiday expectations. One simple example - if we imagine, say, Saturday morning as the time of pancakes, breakfast at a roundtable, and other attributes of typical family idyll, then if you are single, have no children and have never been married, it turns out that you are a priori miserable, isn't it? But Saturday morning is still a great time! For someone, it may be associated with morning jogging with the headphones and a favorite audiobook, and for someone, Saturday morning is the time of returning home from an overnight party. And all these pictures are great, regardless every person has his own fav! You should not think stereotypes and feel guilty for the discrepancy to them. Maybe now a holiday is not a family event, but, for example, a travel time?...

From New York to California, divorce is always difficult. We may have different traditions, different characters, and different divorce rules and laws but stress often remains an indispensable component of even the simplest divorce case.

Social media bring people together, and, fortunately, now it is easier to get the support of those people who have passed or are going through a similar period. Divorce and holidays is definitely not the best mix, just remember that you are not alone while asking yourself a question like "Will I ever enjoy the holidays as before?" And, you know, here is the spoiler, - you surely will be. And, maybe, quite soon. So, arm with your own vision and goal, and don't forget to believe in yourself.


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