By DR. ROSEMARY LICHTMAN and DR. PHYLLIS GOLDBERG
There's something about the holidays that makes you nostalgic for the good old days of childhood. Or, if you're newly divorced, you may be thinking about happier days in your marriage. When you had a partner to share in celebrations, honoring the special days of the season seemed easier. Now it is up to you to set the tone for the holidays and make them meaningful for you and your children. So use this time for reflection, and then create customs that are just right for you.
Here are seven tips to help you create new rituals for yourself and your children after a divorce:
1. Recognize this will be a difficult holiday season.
Everyone's emotions are close to the surface and are likely to spike. Accept that you'll all feel fragile and vulnerable – perhaps anxious, angry, even depressed. If the finality of the divorce is just setting in, the children may still be hoping for reconciliation. If they blame you for their other parent leaving, their reactions will be complex. When they idealize family gatherings from the past, it makes it even harder for you to plan new celebrations that will please them. 2. Take it one step at a time -- as you have with other aspects of your divorce.
The strength that has guided you through the years will ultimately kick in and help you through this process. Even in the midst of confusion, begin by putting one foot in front of the other. Don't try to rush things. 3. Look carefully over your current budget.
Are there any typical holiday expenses you can decrease? This year, particularly, friends and family will understand if you substitute cards for gifts or homemade items for expensive store-bought presents. If you are planning a holiday dinner, let guests pitch in and bring a dish. It's worth the time it takes to figure out the ways to save some money you would have otherwise spent. 4. Ask others for support as you make your plans.
Talk with friends who have also gone through a divorce. Include your children's grandparents in the arrangements. It is important for your kids to know that they still have the warmth and support of an extended family, even though their nuclear family is no longer together.
5. Arrange extra time off work so you can spend time on yourself.
With all of the holiday preparations falling squarely on your shoulders, the preparations are likely to leave you exhausted and stressed. You want to be rested enough to actually enjoy the holiday. Pamper yourself in whatever way is most pleasurable to you. That may mean spending more time with friends or reducing the stress through meditation, yoga or relaxation.6. Create new rituals for your family.
Giving up the security of old habits may leave you feeling unmoored. But it's necessary now. Focus on what is still at the center of your life - family, friends who are there for you, activities that bring you joy. You may decide to spend time with family and friends or commemorate the holiday in a completely unique way. Include your children in the planning process so that they will feel a part of the new celebrations. Recognize that there is no one right way to honor the season. You have the freedom to generate a whole new set of ceremonies and customs. View that opportunity as a gift to yourself and make good use of it.7. Reach out to others who are alone.
Contact a nearby homeless shelter and offer to serve a meal or bake brownies for your neighborhood firefighters and take them to the station. Include an aging relative in your party or invite a co-worker who is alone to share the celebration with you. Take toys to a local children's hospital or chocolates to a convalescent home. There are many people not observing the holiday in the traditional manner who would enjoy being a part of your good time.
Be realistic about your expectations for the holidays. It will be a complicated time for everyone, especially this first year. But as you begin to piece together your new life, you will be creating special rituals for you and your children to repeat through the coming years. The meaning they bring to your family will last long after the season is over.Dr. Rosemary Lichtman and Dr. Phyllis Goldberg have guided their clients through reassessing their lives, before, during and after divorce. They created http://www.HerMentorCenter.com, which provides coaching services and a free e-zine, and are co-authors of the book Family Relationships.