Over the last two months, much of the content on DadsDivorce has been devoted to helping divorced fathers survive the holiday season.
We’ve covered different ways you can build new holiday traditions, explained how meditation can be used to cope with holiday stress, spoken with experts about guiding your children through the season as a child of divorce, and more.
Here is a summary of some of the most helpful pointers to review as the season hits its apex over the next couple weeks.
Don’t judge the emotions you feel
While talking about utilizing meditation as a tool to get through the holidays after divorce, psychologist Andra Brosh advised dads to acknowledge their feelings, regardless of what those emotions are.
“The concept of mindfulness in a traditional sense is really about being present with your experience in general, but mostly your emotions,” Brosh said. “So it’s really about letting yourself feel what you’re feeling and letting it move through you and then not holding a lot of judgment over that and being very present.”
Often after a breakup your mind is pulled either to the past or to the future, which leads to overactive thinking. Brosh recommends staying focused on the present to find a sense of groundedness.
“I would encourage people to use [the holiday season] as a time for reflection to kind of say, ‘OK, I am going to be alone, so how am I going to use that time?’” Brosh said. “Not, ‘How am I going to get through it?’ But, ‘How am can I utilize this to be beneficial?’”
Manage your expectations
For many families, this is the most joyous time of the year. That usually isn’t the case for recently divorced fathers.
This Christmas is going to be different. Know that going in and manage your expectations accordingly.
“Give yourself a break,” said author Laura Petherbridge. “Don’t think that this is going to be a normal Christmas like other Christmases. It’s not going to be a Norman Rockwell Christmas this year and there are numerous triggers that will try to sabotage the holidays.”
You might be heartbroken over the fact that you’re single during the holidays or lonely because you’re spending Christmas Day away from your kids. It’s OK to feel that way. Just keep in mind that this is a transitional phase and isn’t permanent.
“Divorce is a season,” Petherbridge said. “It’s a season of your life. It’s an event. It’s not who you are. It’s not an identity. It’s a season, and you will get over it.”
Find a support system
Things might start to feel overwhelming, especially if this is your first holiday season as a divorced dad. Make sure you have a support system you can rely on and reach out to when you need to talk.
Lean on friends and family members during this time and don’t rely on unhealthy alternatives to try to escape your problems.
“The No. 1 mistake I made during my divorce, of which there were many … is I tried to numb my grief with alcohol,” Petherbridge said. “That only made things worse. … Divorce is a death … and you have to grieve that properly.”
One option might be attending one of DivorceCare’s Surviving the Holidays seminars. These events are held across the country at local churches and give individuals struggling with divorce an opportunity to talk to experts and others who are going through similar situations about their experience.
“It’s basically set up to help anyone who’s been through divorce or separation or maybe lost a loved one or a break-up situation,” said DivorceCare for Kids program developer Linda Ranson Jacobs. “And they may have been divorced for years and all of a sudden finding that they’re dreading the holidays. Surviving the holidays (seminars) just helps you to get through this time.”
Put your kids’ interests first
Even if you are battling loneliness and depression, you need to do everything you can to prioritize the interests of your kids to make the season special.
“It’s very important that we don’t share depression and pain and anxiety about the holidays with our kids,” said Child-Centered Divorce Network founder Rosalind Sedacca. “They’re going through their own drama and the last thing we want to do is add any pain and confusion and hurt they have.”
Start by approaching your children with compassion and allow them to express their emotions.
“Let your kids vent about their feelings, their anxieties and apprehensions and frustrations and regrets and acknowledge what they’re feeling when they’re sharing that with you,” Sedacca said. “Don’t make them wrong. … What you want to do is really open that door to letting your kids know they can trust you and it’s OK for them to say whatever they say even if you don’t like hearing it.”
Once you’ve had that discussion, start focusing on ways to still make the holidays special in their new living arrangement.
Build new holiday traditions
At some point, you’re going to have to move on with your new life and that means building new holiday traditions.
Keep the mindset that “different” can be just as great or better than past traditions.
“Say, ‘Yes, I hear that you’re feeling sad or that you’re missing Mom. …’” Sedacca said. “But then say, ‘We’re going to do some great fun things together and we’re going to make this a wonderful memorable holiday.’ Then come up with really creative ideas to open that door and the way to do that is by starting wonderful new memories and new traditions.”
You can try out new holiday recipes with the kids or go all out in decorating your house or apartment. Invite some new friends over or send an invitation to extended family members to drop by for a holiday get together. Take a trip. Volunteer.
The trick is keeping things fresh and exciting. If you keep an upbeat attitude, your kids will likely follow your lead and cherish these new memories.