Celebrating the Holidays After a Divorce
For some of us the holidays are greatly anticipated times of the year to joyfully share with our families. But for others of us, who may be divorced and sharing custody of our children with an ex-spouse, the holidays can be a time where excitement is replaced with dread. For the divorced parent, the idea of not having their children with them during Thanksgiving or Christmas is a heartbreaking reality.
I spoke to a couple of very good friends who have gone through recent divorces and their advice was about the same: try your hardest to not be alone over the holidays. When you are bombarded with commercials and television shows depicting perfect families celebrating together, it's hard not to give into depression of what once was. Memories of past holidays can come flooding back and finding comfort in empty ways sometimes seems the perfect solution. One friend spoke of "drowning in his sorrows," only to make his depression that first Christmas much worse.
First, take comfort in God, for He knows our hearts and our pain. If we stay close to God, He will comfort our hearts, ease our pain, and in due time, give us the desires of our hearts. We can give our anxiety to the Lord because of His great care for us (1 Peter 5:7).
Next, we must remember to find our contentment in God's purpose for our lives, not what the world considers successful. Marriage and singleness both have their positives and negatives. Neither is perfect in and of themselves. Remember that the enemy tries to attack us by making us feel discouraged and discontent within our lives, our choices and our perceived failures. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
My friends both told me that the holidays, where they would sit back and wallow in their depression of being alone, were by far the worst times for them. Instead, those who are newly divorced and are without their kids should plan ahead and either be with extended family or good friends. If neither is an option, acts of service to the homeless, the aged or the imprisoned were all options that helped them take the focus off of their hurting hearts and place it on those who needed to be fed, loved and ministered to.
Parents of children of divorce want to make sure that the kids are making it through the holidays without too much stress, as well. Sometimes, depending on the age of the child, it's really hard for them to communicate about how they're feeling. Most articles I've read on this subject suggest that the kids will be experiencing every imaginable emotion from guilt to anger to sadness during the holidays. In my personal experience, the adolescent child will try to keep a lot of their emotion locked away, because they don't want to add to the discomfort of their parent(s). Encourage them to talk it out. Be willing to listen to them, even allowing them permission to express some of these negative emotions. Perhaps validating their broken hearts is a good step at relieving some of their stress. Remember they too are having to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas without either mom or dad. It's tough on them, too.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are a time of tradition and ritual, and we all know how important ritual is to kids! So, do we start new traditions or keep the ones we have always honored? Perhaps a little of both. If each parent wants to start new holiday traditions, and these are welcomed by the child, then go for it! Keeping in mind that the first year may not be the perfect time to do this.
If at all possible, keep a friendly / cordial relationship with your ex. The angry words and attitudes expressed about your ex can cause your kids a great amount of stress, especially during the holiday season. I've known young kids who feel a sense of loyalty to one parent over the other because of over-hearing too much information about one parent. This can be an unfair situation for them.
For anyone who is going through divorce or separation, DivorceCare is a Christian ministry located in churches around the U.S. With a support group setting, attendees watch a video of experts discussing different topics such as depression, caring for your children, financial survival and forgiveness. Then participants talk about what they're feeling and what they're going through with facilitators and others who have been there. Their resources seem like they would be hugely helpful!
If you have a friend or a family member who has gone through a painful divorce or separation, be there for them during the next six weeks. This may mean getting them out of the house, inviting them to dinner or a move, or maybe even including them in your own family's holiday celebration. Being the hands and feet of Jesus sometimes means staying at home and ministering to our own family and friends.
Lisa Strnad is an independent contractor in Christian media as a writer, marketing consultant, and public relations specialist. She speaks to Christian women's groups on the issues of motherhood, home schooling and raising a child with special needs. Lisa and her family make their home in Nashville.