From the time I was very young, my closest extended family members were a minimum two-hour drive away. With the exception of vacations, I saw them only on holidays and special occasions. Before my parents divorced, we had a routine for this time of year: Thanksgiving was always spent with my dad’s family, and we alternated Christmases between my mom’s and dad’s families.
After the divorce, I assumed my holiday schedule would remain the same, and it did. For me, keeping the same routine was important for two reasons:
- In the beginning, there was a comfort in keeping the same tradition.
- Also, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around, it had been a couple months since I’d seen my cousins and I was eager to catch up (back then we didn’t have Facebook).
I have no idea if my parents entertained alternatives to the established holiday plans when they separated. If they did, I don’t recall them telling me. As a teenager it never occurred to me that my mom or dad might’ve felt left out or lonely if they didn’t spend those days with their children. (Thanks Mom and Dad for allowing me to remain blissfully unaware of your inner turmoil)
Given the circumstances around our holiday travel schedule, I think it made the most sense to keep the same tradition. But things might’ve been different if my extended family members lived closer. As an adult, my Thanksgiving plans have evolved quite a bit as my parents and I navigated our ways through various relationships and holiday traditions.
As if evolving relationships and living arrangements aren’t enough to stress a family, The Holidays can bring a special kind of pain for a separated couple.
Under the weight of the-way-it-used-to-be, family members can feel haunted by memories and plagued by shame. This is a natural human reaction, but that fact doesn’t make it hurt any less. The best anyone can do in this wintery emotional season is to bundle up, shovel a path through the unknown and trust that this too, shall pass.
My wish for all children of divorce is that they can remain as blissfully ignorant to the discomfort of their situation as I was. Does it make sense to allow your children to continue the same traditions? If so, great. If not, what can you do to ensure this holiday season, although different from those before, isn’t particularly unhappy?
Express gratitude. It’s been said, “When gratitude is your wrapping paper, everything is a gift.” A tough year might not seem so tough when you count your blessings. Don’t forget the smallest things like hot chocolate, your favorite book and laughs you’ve shared as a family.
Let the kids participate. The transition might not feel so foreign if children have an opportunity to craft this year’s story. Let them create decorations, assist in cooking the meal or choose a special dessert.
Experiment with new traditions. How about spaghetti instead of turkey? A restaurant instead of Grandma’s House? A morning jog to help build up an appetite? Ending the day with a trip to the movies?
Spending holiday time alone?
As I typed the previous line, I recalled one year as a teenager when both of my parents chose to have Thanksgiving dinner with their partners’ families. I think I was 17 at the time, and while I liked my parents’ partners I wasn’t comfortable spending the holiday with their extended family members. Instead, I scored an invite to dinner at a close friend’s house. This is typically an enjoyable option, so long as you won’t feel out of place. An alternate plan is to book an escape over the holiday- just get out of town and spend some time indulging your own desires. Or stay home, sleep late and make a day-long date with the television. Yet another choice would be to volunteer for a local charity. Whatever you choose, choose something if you’re having a hard time envisioning the day alone.
Do you have anything to add? How have you found joy in the holidays, post-separation?