Change During the Holidays

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what the holidays will be like this year. Of course, the holidays are supposed to be a time filled with love and joy; a time spent with family and friends. This is true no matter what holiday you celebrate at this time of year. After all, that is what we see in all the holiday movies and hear in all the holiday songs. But, as most grownups know, even in normal times, as special as this time of year is, it is also a time that is inevitably more hectic and more stressful. But this year is different. Many are facing the loss of a loved one, in some cases, more than one loved one. So many people are separated from family members – in hospitals, nursing homes, or just keeping their distance to stay safe. Those who live alone are feeling the solitude even more while those who live with others are feeling the added pressure of the extra time couped up inside because while time together is wonderful, most of us are not accustomed to quite this much “time together.” And then there is the absence of so many of the holiday activities and traditions which we have come to treasure. As an Italian American from Brooklyn, for me, this means foregoing Christmas Eve in Brooklyn with extended family. As the mom of a two-year-old, it means no visit to see Santa this year. But I consider myself lucky. My family is healthy and I have not had to suffer the loss that so many have.pexels-nicole-michalou-5765727-200x300
Yet even as the pandemic drags on, we are striving to make the holidays a time of happiness. These are unusual circumstances, we tell ourselves. It is only one year and next year we will be able to celebrate again like we once did. These feelings of loss, loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness are not usual for this time of year and this too shall pass. But of course, this is not true for everyone. For some, the holidays are not a happy time, even when there is no pandemic. This is true for so many including those who are recently divorced or in the middle of a divorce.
Certainly, it is hard to be happy when the life you knew changes. Suddenly you find yourself dealing with the magnification of loneliness and navigating the stress and the hectic of the holidays alone. Maybe you are struggling with old traditions. Perhaps it is the first year that you will spend the holidays without your children. And added to the normal stress that always comes with the holidays is the need to manage parenting time schedules and feeling like you need to keep everything the same for the kids, while so much has changed.
Clients often describe the difficulties they are facing and how this time of year is impacting them. What I have learned from listening to their stories and those of friends who have gone through the holidays post-divorce, is that many of these feelings are totally normal. They are, in fact, the rule not the exception. But knowing that does not always help. So, what does help? Unfortunately, there is no chicken soup remedy. There is no one size fits all answer. In talking to friends and clients who have gone through a divorce, they often have different answers, and those answers depend on a lot of factors. Are there children and how old are the children, are you and your ex-spouse on at least reasonably civil terms, or has your divorce been what one might describe as ugly, how far are you from family and friends? Individual personalities also impact what may or may not help someone get through.
There is, however, one common theme in all the conversations I have with my newly divorced friends and clients – do not be too hard on yourself. Don’t expect yourself to check off all the to-do’s that you always checked off. Don’t try to convince your children that nothing has changed and everything will remain the same, because things have changed, and your children know that. This does not mean you cannot keep some of the traditions that you and your children love and enjoy. After all, you want to make things easier for your children and keep the magic of Christmas alive. But it does mean that some of those traditions may look a little different. That is okay. It is also okay to make room for new traditions. After all, you are starting a new chapter of your life. And let yourself feel whatever it is that you are feeling. Don’t shame yourself for those feelings and stop telling yourself there is a right way and a wrong way to feel or to react or to handle things.
Finally, of course, let those who love you help you get through. This seems straight forward and obvious. It is generally what we are told any time we are struggling through something difficult or painful. But it can be difficult to heed this advice. We often have a myriad of reasons for not wanting to lean on others. When a close friend went through a divorce just after I got engaged, she hardly talked to me about what she was going through for months. Then one day, I asked her how she was doing and she burst into tears. She told me she had not wanted to talk to me about it because she did not want to ruin my happy joyous time with her sadness. Of course, I told her this was crazy – that is what friends are for. And when an old friend waited nearly three months to tell me that she was having problems in her marriage because she was embarrassed and did not want others to know, I told her she should never feel like she had to put on a show for those that love her. We need those we love and those that love us the most when things are difficult. This does not mean that you need to be with people all the time. If alone time is what you feel like you need, then take that alone time. It just means, do not be afraid to ask for help or to lean on others when you need to.
Life is often hard and not what we expect. This is especially true of the holidays after or during a divorce. Do not expect yourself to be happy for everyone all the time. Do not be hard on yourself for needing help. Divorce at any time is hard, especially during the holidays. So do the best you can for yourself and for your children and give yourself a break. Happy Holidays and Best Wishes to everyone for a Wonderful, Happy, and Blessed 2021!