In my 25 years as the director of the National Family Resiliency Center, Inc. I have gained wisdom from the parents and children who have come to the center. I have worked with families in various states of transition of the separation and divorce process and want to share with you what helps and doesn't help in all aspects of the transition.
What better way to begin than by facing one of the most painful times: Holidays!! The holiday music, shopping, special concerts and performances create a magical view of life which can lead to feeling let down if one doesn't experience the magic of the holidays. At the same time, holidays can be painful reminders about changes in our lives, such as the losses of past traditions, family and friends with whom we celebrated in the past, the money we spent on gifts, the time we spent with children. It can be difficult to deal with these multiple losses and be mindful of the moment. You realize that you may not have the finances to buy your children that special big gift, your former in-laws don't invite you to the traditional holiday party, your children may not even be with you. This can feel so overwhelming! Here are some thoughts about getting through the holidays and enjoying them as well:
• Throw out all expectations. Expectations and assumptions ("My former partner's family will surely invite me.") will only hurt you. Develop realistic expectations such as celebrating a holiday with your children on a different daywhich makes it less stressful for them if they are going to be with their other parent.
• Create some alone time for yourself and work hard to look forward to it. Many men and women tell me that they dread being alone, especially on a holiday. A family transition can also be positive in creating new time for yourself. One mom spent Christmas Day eating Chinese food and watching movies and loved it. Take a walk, get in touch with yourself and what means something to you. Some people enjoy walking and being in touch with nature. Cherish yourself in the moment and think about how you are feeling. It is alright to have sad feelings, lonely feelings. It is alright to cry and reach out for Kleenex. It is also important that you take charge and keep working on what you can do to create the life you want. We sometimes dichotomize our emotions and think we can only be happy or sad. It is alright to simultaneously feel very sad about losses you are experiencing; it is also alright to feel good about the time you created that you actually enjoyed.
• Start new family traditions with your children. If there are traditions that were very meaningful to you and your children, try to keep some of those. However, this is also a good time to be creative, engage your children in their ideas for some new ways to celebrate. One parent didn't have enough money for gifts for several holidays. The family saved up their pennies and chose organizations to give to each season so that they could appreciate what they had and feel good about giving to others. In a very high tech, " I want everything world," know that what children crave is time with their parents. Making ornaments and other decorations can be a family project. You can even involve your teenagers and let them make designs using their computers!
• Respect yourself; respect from others will follow. Give yourself credit for surviving. You are not alone. There are counseling centers, faith communities and other areas where there is another person who may want to talk to you and share. I always believe that those individuals who are able to reach out demonstrate great strength and courage and positive mental health.
• Simplify! You don't have to cook a gourmet dinner if you don't have the energy and or finances. Gather your family and discuss a fun brunch or dinner where everyone can work to help.
I wish you all a holiday season that you create that helps you experience a sense of hope and meaningful time with your children. I look forward to hearing from you and your wonderful suggestions that might help others.