Depending on your point of view, we're about to experience either the most "wonderful time of the year," or the most stressful. A 2014 study conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center showed that 90% of Americans stress out over at least one aspect of the Holiday season, whether it be gaining weight or going into debt. If on top of the usual Holiday demands--shopping, working, arranging childcare during school breaks, and figuring out who's been naughty or nice--you're also newly separated or divorced, your life can quickly degenerate from "Ho, Ho, Ho" to "Oh, No, No!"
Before you enter the witness protection program or lock yourself in the closet, take a deep breath and check out the following 5 tips for surviving the Holidays during a separation or divorce.
- Don't go into debt trying to recreate the past. Remember the Beatles song "Money can't buy me love." If your economic situation has changed since your marital separation or divorce and you can't afford the kind of presents you've purchased for your family in the past, don't make things worse by spending money you don't have. The American Psychiatric Association suggests: "Talk to your kids about expectations for gifts and Holiday activities. Be open with them if money is an issue. Depending on a child's age, parents can use this as an opportunity to teach their kids about the value of money and responsible spending." Obviously, especially with younger children, there is no need to go into too much detail; you don't want them lying awake nights worrying about where their next meal is coming from. Instead, call a family meeting and ask kids to suggest fun, inexpensive ways to enjoy the Holidays together--baking cookies, inviting friends over for a night of board games and charades, going on a hike or scavenger hunt, or creating artwork and photographs to give as presents to family members. Necessity is the mother of invention: you may find that these simple, nonmaterialistic activities become your most treasured Holiday memories.
For example, my young adult son has spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas of his life at his paternal grandparents' home, and although I will not be spending either Holiday with them, I think it's important that he maintain that stability and continuity--at least for this first post-separation family Holiday season. One aspect of the tradition will change, however: in years gone by, we all stayed on at his grandparents' house to celebrate his December 26 birthday together. This year (even though we are separated), his dad and I will take him out to a hip New York City restaurant to toast his special day. And you know what? We're all going to have a terrific time, because our son's happiness is more important to us than our differences. Old tradition, meet new tradition!
And although it's not fair, there's a chance you won't be invited to some of the "couples" Holiday parties you attended during your marriage. Why not create your own Holiday cheer by hosting a small potluck at your place? It's the perfect way to thank the people who've been there for you. You can also avoid the Holiday blues by staying healthy: physically, by maintaining your exercise regime and eating healthfully (except on those occasions when you do find yourself at a fabulous party), and mentally, by staying connected to your support network of friends and family.