It's beginning to look a lot like...
NO! It's not even Thanksgiving yet! Don't even THINK about it!
Yes, I'm sorry divorced people, the holiday season is upon us.
It's that time of year again when everyone's thoughts turn to... The Family I Do Not Have.
The divorced are not unique in this. Frankly, I've been celebrating the holidays this way since I was a teenager. Don't you? Don't you imagine some other, better behaved family with fewer mortifying traditions? In my imaginary family, my brother actually thanks me for gifts, my mother decides to skip church, and my father stuffs the stockings with something other than duct tape and gum stimulators. (That's not a joke. Those are actual gifts from my father.)
But after I grew up and suffered a divorce or two, The Family I Do Not Have weighed on me differently during the holiday season, like undigested fruitcake. It was a reminder that my family doesn't look like other (as I imagine) more perfect families. For many years, my nuclear family was just me and my son.
The holidays are a time of year that idealize the intact family. Little baby Jesus is born in a stable with all his doting attendants. He's not dividing his time in a complicated custody arrangement between Mary and Joseph and Joseph's new wife Ruth, and various step-children who are rather upset at all the attention this new-born brat is getting. Frankincense and myrrh? Really? I didn't get myrrh until I was TWELVE. You love him better don't you?
If you're alone at the holidays, it's hard not to compare your life to the Family I Do Not Have. Or get misty about the Family I Used to Have. But take heart, there are ways to get through the holiday season that don't include drinking yourself into an eggnog-induced stupor.
1.) Stop comparing. In your imagination your ex and former in-laws are wearing handknit sweaters, sitting around a blazing fire, eating exquisite European chocolates, singing Christmas carols (in perfect harmony). In reality? Your former mother-in-law is still passive aggressively sabotaging dinner, your father-in-law is still watching Fox news, and your replacement got Microsoft Office for Christmas, and not the Mercedes you imagine.
In other words, don't romanticize your ex's life. It's probably as mundane and dysfunctional as it ever was. And if it's truly fabulous, and your children come home with tales of new ponies and a baby sister? You don't control that. You just control you, and your happy.
As the saying goes, "Comparison is the thief of joy." Don't rob yourself of your own happiness by comparing your lot to others. Work on what you can control -- giving yourself and those you love a happy holiday season.
2.) Hold it together for the kids. If you feel like an emotional bucket of slop right now, that's understandable. But don't spill out all over your kids. Shore up with some therapy. A change in holiday traditions and adjustments to new family are hard on kids too. So focus on making their holiday bright. You're the grown up here.
If your ex is driving you crazy with the holiday schedule, try to take the emotion out of it. If you wind up celebrating Christmas on Tuesday, January 7 -- Goddamnit, make it the best Tuesday, January 7 ever. Don't guilt your kids, pressing your nose up to the glass of their Other Holiday. "Oh, there was turkey? Really? (sob) I love turkey..." They don't need to feel sad for life's plan of not including you.
If you can't do a poker face or feign happiness at their holiday joy, redirect. "You had turkey? That's great! Hey, I've got cookies in the oven!"
3.) Give thanks. You have a family. It might be your own knit-together tribe of misfits. It might be you and the dog this year, it might be the fellow company of gamers on your Dungeons and Dragons site, but hey, you have a family. Embrace them. Appreciate their finer qualities, revel in their company. You're not alone unless you want to be.
4.) Get off your butt and go volunteer. Every list of holiday wisdom dating back to early Christendom offers this piece of advice. You know why? Because it works. Nothing kicks your butt out of self pity faster than spending some time around people who truly have it worse. And folks, you don't have to look far to find someone on this earth who has it much, much worse. Want to get yourself out of a funk and help someone out of theirs? Find a charity. Go help out at your church or temple. Go sign up at Volunteer Match. If you can't be jolly, at least do some good.
5.) Make your own traditions. You know how you get over the Family I Do Not Have? Be the Family You Wish You Had. I don't mean its original configuration, I mean, start fresh and make your own holiday traditions. Do you want to sleep in and only eat peppermint bark for breakfast? New tradition! Did your ex hate A Charlie Brown Christmas? Midnight holiday movie marathon -- new tradition! Do you want a Thanksgiving side dish devoid of a cloying marshmallow crust? Quinoa. New tradition!
See how that works? Wishing you a wonderful, newly configured holiday season.
This article originally ran on Tracy Schorn's blog Chump Lady.