I have a friend who firmly believes that Halloween is the holiday that officially kicks off “The Holiday Season”. Being a person who really knows how to entertain and, yes, even cook very fine meals, she is all about celebrating. And she is good at it. Whether you agree with my friend or not, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, followed immediately by the day now known as “Black Friday” (only in America and when did that happen anyway?), it is clear The Holiday Season is well underway.
In years past, I was all about Christmas and decorating and making everything festive and, like my friend, I enjoyed celebrating in the company of family and friends. But somewhere along the line things went horribly wrong and suddenly, The Holidays, have lost their appeal to me. Or maybe I’ve just become very, very confused about does and does not matter when creating those memorable holiday moments.
Okay, things didn’t really go “horribly wrong”, at least, not all in one big life changing moment. It was more like a gradual decline and I think I did it to myself. Too much pressure, expectations for myself and those of others (mostly in-laws), the demands of being a new mom, starting a new demanding career at the same time (oh, yes, I do wish I’d played that card differently), and the gradual erosion and decline of a marriage. Along the way, The Holidays lost their charm. They became something to be endured; a source of pain, frustration and immense exhaustion.
After the second divorce, I tried the best I could to make Christmas memorable for my children. This wasn’t easy, since I was now in the place so many people find themselves in after divorce: broke…if not bankrupt. I was definitely the former, scrambling to avoid the latter. Looking back, I don’t even know how I survived that first Christmas because child support hadn’t even kicked in. The second Christmas was also pulled off with meager finances and the third Christmas, last year, was the first Christmas my children spent away from me. That was tough!
Yes, I am fully aware that in spite of the pretty lights, the happy smiles on people’s faces, the advertisements that boast loving couples, happy families, and joyous, grateful children with lavishly decorated homes where trees are standing amidst a treasure trove of gifts, the cost of which might easily feed a small third world nation somewhere for a year, The Holiday Season for many, is a season of pain, regret, disappointment, sadness and deep loneliness. Many of us, especially those of us who are Singles in a World of Couples dread the advent of the holidays because it means we will be attending yet another office party alone, waking up Christmas morning alone while the kids wake up and open presents elsewhere, eating alone with no one to greet us in the morning or drink a toast with us in the evening. That awareness can gnaw at us and deprive us of joy, energy, and contentment.
Now, if I let it, that could depress me. I could spend my time regretting the misused past. I could spend my time fretting that I am now unable to provide my children with what I’d always wanted and hoped to be able to provide them materially. I could feel badly that I don’t have significant other to share the joys and sorrows (or my hot tub!) with. I could get weepy that things are not exactly what I wanted or how I planned or imagined. I could despair that things are not better than they are. Sometimes I do. Not for long. Maybe only about two hours a month…if that.
Solution: I don’t let it. I’ve learned to enjoy what I have and be grateful that I have it. I’ve also learned that things can always be worse. After all, as one friend recently said to me, “You have a roof over your head, a good job, you are paying your bills haven’t had to foreclose on your home or file bankruptcy, you and your kids are healthy and you have food on the table. It could be so much worse, so chin up!”
I’ve learned over the last three years to think differently about many things. I now think differently about my holidays. I think very differently about the holidays on those years when my kids will be away for Christmas Day. I’m not so hesitant anymore to ask out that guy friend to my office Christmas Party. I just make sure it is someone who understands that this is not a Friends With Benefits situation or that I have any illusions about us as a couple. I’ve given myself permission to be single and to enjoy it. I’ve given myself permission to take full advantage of the times when the kids are away. I’ve met enough people and have plenty of friends that if I want a date to an event I can have one. If I’m sitting home alone on a weekend night it is because I have chosen it, not because I have no other choice. I’ve learned to be at peace with myself.
I no longer feel that I’m missing life if I stay home…alone…curled up on my couch in my lounge pants and t-shirt…in front of the fire. Would it be fun to be using my couch differently? Of course, but I’m not desperately hoping that will happen or thinking that it must happen in order for me to feel validated and alive.
Mostly, I’ve learned that the off times, those times when the kids are away at their other homes is a great time for me to work on the many home improvement tasks I have lined up. I don’t have to worry about kids wanting to help with the painting or spreading the mess throughout the house. I don’t have to stop mid project to fix a meal and clean it up. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with some of my adult friends that I have a more difficult time connecting with when the kids are around. It’s a great opportunity to get caught up on laundry and if all else fails…
…it is a wonderful time to try to learn to cook a new dish!
Yeah, like that’ll happen anytime soon!
I do have questions though for those of you out there who, like me, have a shared custody or a parenting plan that means your children will be away from you some or all of the holiday season.
How do you handle the holiday season when you don’t have your children with you to celebrate?
How has divorce changed how you celebrate the holidays?