by Amy Lawson, MBA, CDFA®
Divorce is tough. The holidays are tough. Dealing with divorce during the holidays is more than tough. Truth be told, the pain doesn’t just double, it multiples. Even the least skilled among us in math understands this exponential pain:
Pain of Divorce + Pain of Not Living up to a Norman Rockwell Painting ≠ Double Pain
It looks like this:
Pain of Divorce x Pain of Not Living up to a Norman Rockwell Painting = Pain2
Whether you packed up the kids (and the gifts) and transversed the country to spend a few precious days with those you love the most or impatiently waited while those you love the most transversed the country to knock on your door (with kids and gifts in tow), prior to divorce, tough as it may have been, the holiday rituals were familiar. The food, the faces, the places held dear or merely tolerated in the name of love, made the holidays LOOK like the holidays.
Divorce Changes Your Life
Ready or not, wanting it or not, change is unavoidable. So, if your Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza doesn’t LOOK like Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza this year, give yourself a break. Creating a new normal takes time… and patience – patience with yourself and others… and extending loads of loving kindness toward yourself.
My advice? Get a new vision. Right now. Yes, now. Take a deep breath. Now take another deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Now close your eyes and envision a holiday that would bring you peace, maybe not peace on earth, but peace in your little corner of it. Envision what a Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza filled with harmony, and maybe even a few moments of joy you can string together – but certainly one not overwhelming with stress – would actually LOOK like. Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing?
Is your mind in a swirl at the mere thought of attempting to envision something different than you’ve known over the past how many decades? I thought it might be, so I’m going to help you out:
Here Are A Few Questions To Kickstart Your Vision Quest
Would you like a tree… a minora… or a kinara? Or no tree, minora, or kinara? Or how about no decorations at all?
Does roasted turkey… latkes… or black eye peas & collard greens sound tasty to you? Or does the thought of these traditional holiday dishes make you want to gag? Maybe you’d LOVE to have vegetable lasagna… or fettuccini alfredo… or those shrimp and avocado quesadillas with a GRANDE margarita on the rocks with no salt? You know the menu. It’s the one your STBX (soon-to-be ex) took offense to at the mere mention of deviating from the norm a few years ago. (I wonder how your STBX is doing with the deviation of the norm called “my wife does all of the Christmas shopping?”)
Do traditional carols or songs make your heart sing? How about contemporary carols or songs? Or how about no holiday-themed music at all? Or how about no music at all? Maybe a little peace and quiet would soothe your weary soul?
What About The People You Should Spend Your Holidays With?
You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones you were taught “love us the most” because they are kin to you. The same ones you’d never choose as friends if you didn’t share genetic material. The ones whose abhorrent behaviors are minimized, if not ignored in effect, with the reckless use of the word “just,” the adverb that means “simply.”
“That’s just how your mother/ father/ sister/ brother/ grandmother/ grandfather/ aunt/ uncle/ cousin is.” Meaning: “I ignore his/her/their behavior because if I acknowledge it, I’ll have to do something about it and I’m JUST too big of a coward.” (Now, THAT’s the proper use of the word “just!”)
But YOU are not a coward, dear friend, you are brave, even braver than you know. Think about it: You are standing on the precipice of what feels like the Great Unknown, emotionally naked and effing afraid and aren’t accustomed to putting your needs at the top of the list.
Not only is it OK for you to put your needs at the top of the list, but it’s also essential that you do it for your own sense of emotional well-being. YOU get to choose WHOM you spend your non-working hours with on any given day, ESPECIALLY the holidays. If your family doesn’t support your new vision, create a tribe who does and spend your holidays with your tribe.
However, should you CHOOSE to spend the holidays with those with whom you share genetic material, then set some boundaries – and stick to them – starting with your kids, regardless of age. Explain to them way before Lowe’s puts out the Christmas trees, that the holidays will be different this year but that it need not mean the holidays will be bad. Explain that while you may love your family (or most of them), there are things about them that you don’t love and the things you don’t love aren’t good for you or them and it’s your job as their mother to monitor who influences them, no matter who that “influencer” may be.
Will You Likely Get Pushback?
Sure! But I’m guessing you started getting pushback with the first mouthful of smushed peas that were spit out as fast as you could shovel them in. And since that day, I’m guessing you got a steady stream of pushback on a myriad of matters such as what they should eat… what they can wear… what time they go to bed… what time they get up… doing their homework… feeding the dog… cleaning the litter box… cleaning their room… mowing the grass… who they can hang out with. Ah, there it is – you get to decide whom they can hang out with, who can influence them.
Most likely the older they got, the louder the pushback. As I reminded one friend, more than once, during her daughter’s teenage years, “If she doesn’t scream, ‘I hate you’ at least once a year, you’re not doing your job. Your job is to be the parent, not to be popular.”
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying setting new boundaries will be easy, as a matter of fact, it may be hard, it may be really effing hard. But at the end of the day, wouldn’t you prefer to be in charge of bestowing life lessons upon your children? Of course, you would.
So, if it’s off to Grandma’s house you go, decide on an action plan beforehand, share that plan with your children (if you have them) and should those boundaries be violated, work your plan. If may be as simple as walking away from the table or out of the room at the first off-colored joke, backhanded compliment, or any display of assholery, or, as drastic as an early, yet diplomatic, departure. There’s no need for fuss or drama. Simply keep your cool, extend sincere thanks for the hospitality and then get the HELL OUT OF DODGE and back to your haven. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING wrong with wanting AND HAVING the holiday that soothes your soul (and protects your children from absorbing all of that dysfunctional sh*t that those who “love us the most” can pile upon our heads).
Think About It As An Oxygen Mask On An Airplane
What does the flight attendant say during the emergency briefing? I know, no one listens. But should anyone choose to take out their earbuds long enough to hear just this one lifesaving tip, here’s what they would hear: If you are traveling with a child… PUT YOUR MASK ON FIRST.
Take out your earbuds, dear friend. You must save yourself so you can, in turn, save your child, even if your child is now an adult.
The post-divorce Christmas/Hanukka/Kwanza dinner bears no resemblance to a Norman Rockwell painting, but most likely the pre-divorce Christmas/Hanukka/Kwanza dinner didn’t either. So, stop killing yourself trying to live up to a very un-real image painted on a canvas – a Norman Rockwell Christmas is over-rated.
Wishing you peace and plenty of NEW holiday traditions!
Your gray girlfriend,