I hear from some clients that the first year of holidays following divorce is the most difficult. Interestingly enough, this is the sentiment from those upset about having been put through divorce and those who were happy to be divorced. I can only assume, this difficulty is not as a direct result of being “divorced” but more to do with not dealing well with change. It is a huge change, and holidays that center around family, Thanksgiving especially, are the most difficult due to the change in family structure.
If you are in the throes of the divorce process, the difficulty of dealing with holidays is even worse. When you are dealing with a major life transition like divorce, the last emotion you are probably feeling is gratefulness. In fact, you are very well thinking about nothing else but the divorce. Your world may have been turned upside down. However, the whole focus of Thanksgiving is “giving thanks”.
I recommend that my clients sit down each morning during the month of November, and do what they should do every day the whole year, make a list of at least ten things they are grateful for. Actually, I recommend they take it one step deeper and make a list of at least ten things they are worried about, scared of, and that make them want to cry about the holiday and events ahead. For example, they may write down that they only get two hours the morning of Thanksgiving with their children before they have to leave to the other parent’s house for the day leaving them completely alone for Thanksgiving. You are probably thinking, doesn’t writing this down defeat the purpose? Well, maybe, but only if they can’t flip it around. That is exactly what I ask them to do – flip it around into a positive. Be grateful for the two hours they get to spend with their children, maybe they get to have a nice breakfast together , pumpkin pie with a cup coffee for mom/dad and hot chocolate for the youngsters, or maybe they can get up early and go to the parade in town. Whatever the positive can be – that is what should be written down and focused upon. Take the negative, flip it around to the positive and truly feel grateful for it.
By taking little steps, being thankful for little bits of every day, you are taking baby steps towards adapting to the new you. More importantly, you can begin to realize that life is still good, that you are still alive, still enjoying each and every day in whatever meaningful way you can, moving forward, and moving on. Baby steps.
I am not a psychologist and I cannot suggest how to help children through the holiday and still keep it together. As a parent, I know that we always try to be strong, act strong and maintain our composure for the sake of our children. I can’t presume to know the best ways to help them cope with it all, but I can give two bits of advice that have come from years of observing families during and post-divorce. If, at the end of the day despite it all, you must admit your spouse is a decent parent, then the first piece of advice applies to you. No matter what your opinion is of your spouse and even if you despise them with every being of your soul do not share these feelings with your child. Please remember that even if your spouse deserves to be hated by you, most children still love their parent with all of their heart and should not be made to hate them or carry your emotions. Save them from years of expensive therapy and foster a meaningful relationship between them and their other parent even though it might require you to summon every bit of strength you can possibly summon. Accept the parenting time, accept the things you cannot change, and do what you can to make sure your child has a fantastic Thanksgiving regardless of everything else going on in their world.
As for my second piece of advice – remember what they tell you during the pre-flight safety announcements.
- All electronic devices should be turned off and stored. Do not torture yourself by staring at pictures of other people and their seemingly perfect lives and families on Facebook. Everyone has their own problems and all you are seeing is what they want you to see in that moment, just as you may have been showing last Thanksgiving despite knowing you are heading towards divorce. Try to stay positive, by staying off of social media as much as possible.
- Keep your seat belt securely fastened. Even if the seat belt sign is off, we ask that you keep the seat belt fastened while seated in case we experience some unexpected turbulence. Ensure that you have a support system in place, somewhere to be, someone to speak with, even if it is going to the gym for a workout and speaking to the staff. Maybe even bake them some healthy cookies so you leave with a smile on your face that you did something good for someone else. Even if you are content and feeling happy, there may be some unexpected turbulence and failing to plan and keep your seat belt fastened is a mistake that can be avoided.
- If you are traveling with children, make sure your own mask is on before helping your children. This is the most important bit of this advice. Take care of yourself, do the gratefulness exercises above, prepare your support system, make plans, and take care of yourself first so that you can be there for your children and prepare them. If you are not well and taken care of, if you fail to help yourself first, you won’t be able to take care of them and help them through it.
Lastly, Remember: “Never Forget how far you’ve come. Everything you have gotten through. All the times you have pushed on even when you felt you couldn’t. All the mornings you got out of bed no mater how hard it was. All the times you wanted to give up but you got through another day. Never forget how much strength you have developed along the way.” – tinybuddha.com
Life is never easy, divorce is simply just another bump in the road. Make it a happy holiday!