While the holidays are known as a time of for happiness and cheer, things can sometimes be difficult for divorced families during the holiday season. If you are looking for resources that will help you with coping with the holidays during divorce, whether you or lonely, stressed or simply looking for help to navigate this transition, let this be your handy guide.

When my parents divorced, even with all the chaos and bumpy conversations throughout the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas were happily somehow never a problem for my family.  Once the Separation Agreement was done, I was blissfully unaware of any further holiday negotiating. My mom had us every year at Thanksgiving in exchange for my father taking us for Christmas. Super easy.

Each year, my mother, brother, mother and stepfather would head to Riverdale for our family’s version of Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, chestnuts and plums, red cabbage, sweet potatoes, walnuts and marshmallows, and a jelly roll and orange crème for dessert.  Then, the following week we would have a second celebration with my father’s family; turkey, lasagna, ham, mashed potatoes. For my brother and me, what could be better? Jewish-Italian love and plenty of food. Looking back, beyond the wonderful memories, what I am most thankful for is that my parents provided a container for us to truly enjoy our childhood. 

Of course, I was a child, so I have no idea what went on behind the scenes between my parents to get there, but my experience was one of pure abundance, love, joy and of course, lots of food.  In the process of curating  The Better Apart Method, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to my parents about the keys to their success.

Although I was only nine, I was painfully aware of the calls to the lawyers as they navigated their resolution.  But beyond that, when I asked them about their experience about the holidays, I was surprised that while their experiences were different from each other, there was the unified theme of the sense of longing. 

While a respite from your children may be welcome during the best of times, not seeing your children on a holiday can be lonely.  The holiday can feel long and empty.

Acknowledging to yourself that this sense of loss is both real and normal is the first step. I wanted to deliver some ideas straight from The Better Apart Method for divorced parents who are apart from their children this season.  

1. Patience:  Grieve.

Allow yourself to feel your feelings.  As a first step, of course, it’s healthy to acknowledge the loneliness and the sense of loss that you are likely experiencing.  Grieving is an important component of the healing process. If skipped, it will take its toll on your well being emotionally, and physically. Patience is key to getting through the hardest times.  Five deep breaths following a good cry can do wonders to calm your body and mind.

2. Respect: Learn To Respect Yourself & Embrace Bravery.

Experiencing the holidays without your children may require you to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone.  Recognize that you have wells of courage deep within you that can take you through even the toughest days.  Remember self-respect often suffers when we are feeling alone.  Take the time to cultivate the habit of listing all the people and circumstances that lift you up.  Commit to bringing more of those things into your life, especially during the holidays.

3. Peace: Gift yourself a fresh holiday experience.

Get in touch with your inner peace.  With the swirl of emotion, neutral may be the best you can do, but that is a great place to begin. Whether you’re missing time with your children, or the family dinner with your former beloved in-laws, now is the perfect opportunity to press reset. If you find yourself with extended “holiday” alone time, commit to focusing on self-care and creating pockets of joy for yourself no matter how small. Just by setting the intention you are making space for new positive energy. Spend energy reconnecting with the experiences that you enjoyed before you were married. Visit a long lost relative or friend. Take yourself out for a meal. If the mood strikes you, get in touch with your long lost spiritual self. Whatever strikes your fancy, coping with the holidays during divorce will be easier when you take the time to do things a little differently and focus on yourself.

4. Clarity: Create a Separate Special Day

Get clear on the essence of what brings you the greatest sense of joy on the holiday.  Consider ways you may bring that feeling into a new event to share with your children. It can be non-traditional. Create a new ritual to enjoy for the days when you are reunited.  It can be something simple and inexpensive. Recreate the best parts of the holiday in a new way on an alternative day.  Perhaps you and your child can plan a special outing together. Maybe a traditional holiday meal on an alternate date. It won’t be the same as it was before, and that’s good news too.  You can do things taking the time to carefully consider what plan best fits the needs of you and your children. On the holiday itself, do something just for YOU. For once, you have the luxury of not having to please anyone other than you.  

5. Forgiveness: Write your child a letter.

When sadness is too difficult to process, it’s often natural to get stuck in anger.  Take the time to notice how you feel. If you are having unpleasant or vengeful thoughts, consider reframing your inner narrative around whatever has happened.  Even just for the day, forgive yourself, your ex, and all the circumstances that led your family to where you are today. If you find yourself dwelling on what is missing, write a loving letter to your child(ren).  Be sure to be positive. Resist burdening them by telling them how much you are grieving. Rather, spend your energy telling them all the ways you are proud to be their parent.  You may later decide to share the letter after or to hold it back so you can look at it in time and take note of your forward progress.

Please note that of course, it is perfectly normal to feel uneasy or blue when your holiday rituals are disrupted by separation or divorce.  If you are feeling like you are in need of counseling to get yourself as you are coping with the holidays during divorce, consider contacting a mental health professional.  

As always, if you wish to learn more about the Better Apart Method, you can purchase the Better Apart book or contact me here. 

P.S. Want more tools and resources to stay positive during a divorce? Download my Free Divorce Survive & Thrive Kit below!


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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.
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