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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holidays Without the Children

My first 'big' holiday without the children was Christmas last year - and it was a doozey.  I guess my theory was to take the gut punch first and it could only get better.  It has gotten better.  This year I've enjoyed Easter, July 4 and Labor Day with my threesome.  Plus I've been looking forward to Christmas morning since December 25 last year. 
Last Thanksgiving was made up with a fun road trip where the children and I drove to be with family.  It was fast-paced, loud, adventuresome and so memorable.  I've been with my parents and sister's family for most of the Thanksgivings in my life and love passing the traditions along to my own crew.  So this year didn't quite feel like Thanksgiving, even though it was a lovely day, including gourmet food, family and football.  Isn't it amazing how we resist change?

If you find you are having a holiday away from your children, there are some things that will help:
  • Setup a time to speak with your children. Whether it's a whole weekend away or just one day, both children and parents feel more connected when they know they will touch base throughout the absence. 
  • Make the effort to celebrate together - even at a different time than normal. Put up decorations, bake the cookies, write a letter to Santa, create a "Thankful Tree."  Holidays are seasons of celebration, not just a one-time event.
  • Keep the traditions. If you won't be waking up to open stockings on Christmas morning, hang them anyway, fill them for when they do come home and be sure they know "Santa was here, too!"  Open the advent calendar (even if you miss some days because of visitation), read the Christmas stories, bake and make presents for teachers.  Most traditions are not date-specific and can be done during the days and weeks leading up to Christmas.
  • Stay connected to family and friends. It's easy to withdraw and isolate when you're feeling discouraged and down.  During the holidays, so much is happening that others may not notice when you are no longer showing up.  So take the initiative to stay engaged, attend work parties, church functions or remain active in the gym.  Whatever gets you up and out and interacting with others is good for your well-being.
  • Bring the party home.  Make your house a holiday extravaganza and decorate as much as you can!  Strings of white lights are inexpensive and make everything look festive.  Then invite some friends over or host a play date.  Make memories in your own space so that you can enjoy the season on your turf.  I like to invite some friends over for a sweet & savory evening and have no problem asking everyone to bring something.  It keeps the expense down for me, but provides a space for connection.  Try it!
  • Stay focused on the bigger picture.  Holidays are important and memories are made during this time, but real life happens day to day.  It's important to remember that the values you instill throughout the year are more important than the seasonal celebration. 
  • Avoid the competition trap.  If it's your year to spend the holiday alone, do not overcompensate with gifts you cannot afford or activities that offer more stress than pleasure.  Let your children's other parent be the hero and bear the financial brunt.  It's okay to have a 'lesser' gift when your children know they have you.
Holidays are bound to be emotionally charged.  Too many memories and traditions are wrapped up in them along with expectations and images of 'perfection.'  It's time to forge a new normal and let go of the stress.  Soon I'll share what I wish I'd done differently last year and some changes I plan for this year.  Please share with me, too.  Do you include your children's father in the Christmas celebration?  Do you help them buy a present?  Any hints are appreciated as I'm only on my second holiday season post-separation.  Thanks!