Divorce makes the usually stressful and over-scheduled holidays even more difficult:  If you’re separated or divorced, these ten tips can help you unload the dread, anxiety, or loneliness for a time of inner peace, hope, and even a little joy. If you’re related to, or a friend of, someone who’s divorced, these will also help you help them!

( 1 ) Have realistic expectations.
Don’t expect this year to be like others. Visualize divorce as being a “heart attack” and that can help you approach the season with much more balance; after a ‘heart attack’, one needs more rest, must drop some former activities, and listens to the body for clues of how far you can push yourself.  The holidays will come again every year. There will be new good times . . . count on it.

( 2 ) Know you may stay home this year.
You may feel like isolating which is a normal part of grief and healing.  But some friends may push you to get out. Stop feeling sad! Come be happy with us!  If you are wallowing in self-pity, you may need to wash your face, spritz on some cologne, and force yourself to go. If you’re ambushed by emotions at the party, you can politely leave. Take care of yourself. But if you are genuinely overwhelmed and need the security of solace, give yourself permission to stay in.

( 3 ) Do something special for yourself.
St. Thomas Aquinas said one of the five remedies for sadness is to treat yourself to a little something you like. Go to a good movie, do some window shopping, drop into Church for  adoration, or have a cold beer. It doesn’t have to be lavish.  This is not selfishness; it can be a small foretaste of the joys of heaven.

( 4 ) Try to do something for someone else.
One of the best ways to come out of our misery is to help someone else.  Help other family members with something; you can volunteer at school, church, or at a community shelter. But it’s also okay if all you can manage is simply remembering to get your kid’s Christmas presents before Christmas Eve.

( 5 ) Keep it simple.
Having a Christmas tree may cheer you up, but for others it will be too depressing. Sending Christmas cards can be very therapeutic, but for some it is yet another time-consuming and unnecessary expense.  Re-examine everything you used to do during the holidays, keep what works, and get rid of the rest. Divorce can help you reorder your life in better ways you never realized.

( 6 ) Keep in close touch with the kids.
Children crave routine and rituals which give them a sense of security—especially holiday customs.  Keep as many of the holiday routines that they best love.  Simplify the lavish gift craziness; it will help everyone detach from “things” and focus on what is most important.  Instead of the expensive annual ski trip, popcorn and Christmas movies can become a new family tradition. Listen to and affirm your children, but remember you are the parent and have the final word. Use common sense. Be most generous in your time, attention, and hugs.

( 7 ) Don’t think you must celebrate with your ex.
As Catholics, we know we are still married until and unless there is a decree of nullity ( annulment) so love and pray for your spouse even when there is civil divorce or even remarriage. If the divorce is new or tensions are still high, trying to force a family Christmas may often confuse everyone,  especially if the other parent brings their new romantic partner. Be kind and supportive and get together if you think it’s best, but don’t force it. Christmas can’t cover the real problems.  Next year will probably be different.

( 8 ) Help the children buy a present for their other parent.
Help them select or make a gift for others, but don’t be tempted to take credit for this generosity by adding your name to the gift tag. Let the child take credit. Stay anonymous. The Lord sees what you do in secret.

( 9 ) Consider true sacrifice.
Why not give the other parent Christmas Eve AND all of Christmas day and night, and stop trying to split it “in half” like Solomon’s baby. Let that side of the family have complete uninterrupted, joyful access to the kids (like you would like to have!) You can “do presents” before or after, and then you get Christmas Eve/Day next year.

( 10 ) Go to Mass and rejoice in your heart.
Make God the center of the holidays (HOLY-days). Direct your children to the greatest joy we have, Christ who loves us and comes to set us free.  It’s normal that your emotions may be extremely tender; the tears may come and the cries of your heart may be muffled by the strains of “Silent Night”. But come. Come as you are and enter into the supreme sacrifice of love Jesus made on the cross.  Offer your hurts, hopes, and your whole self. Entrust your family to him.  Even if you can’t feel it, BELIEVE!

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Need more encouragement or practical holiday help? Contact me to schedule a phone appointment.