The holiday season can intensify feelings of sadness and loss—especially for people going through a divorce. The holidays underscore how much their lives have changed. Here are five practical tips for surviving divorce and the holidays.
- Plan early. Don’t wait. Work out your holiday parenting schedule in advance. Recognize that your children have a right to spend time with both parents during the holidays—it’s good for all involved. Be fair in deciding where the children will spend their time; generosity breeds generosity. The best non-monetary gift you can give your children is the gift of goodwill towards your former spouse. Agree to a ceasefire, at least during the holidays.
- Patience is a virtue. Celebrating the holidays on your own can be both hectic and emotionally overwhelming. There is a lot going on on multiple levels, so be patient with yourself, your kids, and the rest of your family. You are charting new territory. A little patience will go a long way towards making the holidays more enjoyable than you might think.
- Create new family traditions. To the extent possible, maintain meaningful family traditions even if they feel different. Annual traditions will stay with your children for a lifetime. But families of divorce also should be adventurous and engage new traditions. Allow the children to contribute to the process. The idea is to “shake it up” and do something different. Traditions that were once enjoyable, but now dredge up negative emotions, should be replaced with new and exciting activities.
- Relieve stress with diet and exercise. Experiencing the holidays alone can be stressful. Research suggests that individuals under stress should limit their intake of foods that intensify anxiety symptoms—including caffeine, sugar, alcohol, dairy products, red meat, poultry, and gluten-containing foods. Calming foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish. Be realistic about your holiday diet. Exercise regularly to clear your head. And above all, don’t numb the pain with drugs or alcohol. They only create more depression.
- Focus on the less fortunate. Regardless of how unfortunate you may feel, there is always someone less fortunate than you. Focusing on them will give you a dose of reality, and cause you to forget about your troubles and appreciate what you have. Help out at your church or community center, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or reach out to a neighbor or shut-in. Involve your children. You will teach them a great lesson.
Sonya B. Coffman is a Board Certified divorce, custody, and family lawyer in Beaumont, Texas. Ms. Coffman has been a CPA and trial lawyer for over 27 years. She understands the impact a divorce can have on families during the holiday season.