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What are your tips for coping with a fresh divorce around the holidays?

The holidays can be difficult during or right after a divorce. The traditions and routines of your holidays will be different in light of your separation or divorce, which can intensify your feelings of loss and emphasize the change in your circumstances. Being apart from your children or adjusting to being single during the holidays can be emotionally wrenching.

The good news is that even if your life may not be what you want it to be right now, you do have choices about how you spend your holidays. With good planning and a positive attitude, you can embrace the season and your holidays can still be filled with joy.

To create a successful holiday season for yourself, we recommend:

  • Planning ahead for events and new traditions you’ll enjoy
  • Creating new traditions – foods, gifts – that are meaningful to you
  • Leaning into the peace and joy of being alone, vs. feeling lonely (create positive activities for yourself that you enjoy doing alone, like a new, annual holiday hike, or trip to your favorite museum or restaurant solo!)
  • Ask yourself: what will bring me true joy this holiday season? And then do it.

What are common mistakes you want to make sure you avoid?

  1. Not making a positive plan for yourself in advance
    • If it’s your first holiday without your ex and/or your kids, take some time to decide what new, positive, meaningful traditions might feel like to you. For example, Avail Founder Nate Zorich started a new tradition for himself after his divorce: each Christmas that he doesn’t have his kids, he and his dog wake up early and hike to the summit of Horsetooth rock, a gorgeous hike with panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains at the top! Now, nearly a decade after his divorce, Nate looks forward to this Christmas tradition he’s created for himself. Then, he celebrates his own “family Christmas morning” with his kids on another day that is not December 25.
  1. Not having a clear holiday plan in your co-parenting agreement
    • The holidays can be emotionally charged and logistically difficult under the best of circumstances, so having a very clear holiday plan laid out in your official “parenting responsibilities” will save you co-parenting stress as the holidays approach. (A sample “parenting responsibilities” template is available to Avail members on our website). For example, will one parent have the kids on Christmas Day each year, and the other parent have them on Christmas Eve? Or will you switch off Christmas week (for one parent) and New Year’s week (for the other parent) each year? Does one parent get the kids on Christmas in odd years, the other parent in even years? Be sure that your co-parenting schedule is very clear about which parent has the kids on which holidays, starting at what day/time and ending and what day/time, and how this will be made equitable either the following day, week, or year. Avail’s co-parenting app can help you stay organized ahead of the holiday stress! (If you haven’t signed up yet for our co-parenting app launch list, be sure to do so!)
  1. Drinking too much
    • It’s easy for one glass of wine to turn into two, then three, then four during the holidays. This can be especially true if you’re going through a divorce. Alcohol is a quick way to numb uncomfortable feelings, and drinking can easily escalate into unhealthy habits during this time of year. Be mindful of your alcohol intake. Seek support from groups such as Gray Area Drinkers if you’re worried you’re drinking too much. Try to keep less alcohol in your house, or make an agreement with yourself to only drink when you are out with friends (and not when you’re home alone). Beware the slippery slope.

What are your tips for freshly co-parenting around the holidays?

  1. Don’t try to “one up” each other
    • It can be tempting to try to “one up” your ex with Christmas gifts and other holiday giving, especially when it comes to your kids. Don’t overspend, don’t compete with your ex. Your kids need special, secure, loving, new traditions in each home – NOT parents who are in a race to outspend each other. This is way less fun for your kids than you think.
  1. Remember that being more emotional, sentimental or nostalgic this time of year is normal and okay
    • The holidays can bring up a lot of feelings, even for people who aren’t freshly separated or divorced. It’s normal to have higher highs and lower lows during this time of year. You might even miss your ex, or the holiday traditions you used to have together. This is totally normal and okay, and it doesn’t mean your divorce was the “wrong” decision or that if things were different they’d be better. It’s easy to fall into nostalgic “the grass is always greener” thinking around the holidays; beware of this tendency and don’t let it derail you. Feel your feelings, but know they won’t be this intense forever.
  1. Don’t alienate the other parent or “parentify” your children
    • Holiday stress sometimes makes us forget what’s actually best for our kids: having two parents who never speak ill of each other in front of their shared children, and allowing kids to be kids during the holidays. You might be overwhelmed trying to organize gift buying or holiday gatherings as a single person for the first time. Remember not to lean on your older children to do holiday jobs that are meant for adults (also known as “parentifying” your kids). And as annoyed as you might be at your ex for getting your kids the long-wished-for X Box for Christmas (when all you can afford is some used bikes), don’t let your kids see you sweat or complain. Find your own special holiday traditions to create with your kids, and don’t fall into the trap of “keeping up” or comparing yourself to your ex.

Any anecdotes, stats, etc. you want to share?

Studies show that depression rises during the holidays, and not only for divorced people. One of the main indicators of rising depression in November and December is social isolation. 

To avoid this, be sure to put 2-5 events on your calendar between November and January that will get you out of the house and give you energy. If you’re an introverted person, this might be organizing a hike for yourself, or a day with a friend visiting a museum. If you’re an extroverted person, maybe you’ll want to host a holiday happy hour for adults this year, on a day when you don’t have your kids with you. You could even throw in a white elephant gift party, or make it a potluck to save the hassle of cooking. Whatever you choose, start thinking about what would “fill your tank” and keep you from the holiday blues in October and early November. Make the plans and get it on your calendar. Then you’ll always have something coming up to look forward to!

We suggest reading Avail’s article “Navigating The Holidays” .

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