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How to Prepare for the Holidays

By Amanda Singer

As I write this, I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is already over and we’re already in December. Chanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s are going to be here before we know it, and then this year will be over, which I know some of us are probably very excited about and hoping that 2021 is a better year. It seems like this year has both lasted forever and flown by, and the holiday season is here before we even knew it. Now 2020 already looks very different from other years for so many reasons, and your holiday plans are also probably looking different than in past years as gathering together as a family with multiple different households is not safe to do, especially for many of the members in our families that are higher risk. If you are also going through a divorce or this is your first holiday season post-divorce that can be even harder to navigate both changes at once. Here are some suggestions as you prepare for the holidays, especially during this year, and in future years and holidays.

Create New Traditions and Keep Old Ones That Bring You Joy

While traditions can be an important part of the holidays, you may have traditions that date back many years in your family, or maybe you have traditions that you and your ex had begun during your marriage. Either way, your first holidays post-divorce can be a good time to think about the new traditions that you want to start for yourself and your kids if you have them going forward. This doesn’t mean throwing out all of your old traditions, though, if there are things that had been in your family for years or ones that you like but it means seriously considering which ones actually bring you joy and which ones you’ve just done because you felt you had to. Maybe you have certain foods that you like to cook or bake each year, or maybe you do it because you feel like you should, and you’d rather just order your meal from Whole Foods this year. If cooking an elaborate meal is only something you did because your ex-spouse wanted it or because you thought it was expected of you and you don’t want to do it this year, then that’s ok. It’s also ok to continue traditions that may have been a joint tradition before, but you liked it and didn’t want to give it up. Maybe your ex’s family always opened up their presents on Christmas eve, and even though you guys are no longer together, you want to continue opening presents on Christmas Eve, then you can totally do that.

Creating new traditions can also be a great way to make it feel like a new year and find something entirely your own. This can be something that’s just about you or with family or friends.  In a year when gatherings may be difficult, maybe that’s finding a way to decorate and bring the holiday cheer to those near and far using photos and videos.  Know that it’s perfectly alright to give up the old traditions you don’t need, keep the ones you want and create new ones.  If you have children, especially older ones, it can help ask them what they want to incorporate into the new traditions. Including them can help them feel a part of it and create new traditions that everyone is excited about.

Think Outside the Box

Creative thinking can be helpful as you prepare for the holidays and how this year may look different, especially if it’s your first holidays alone. Again, you don’t need to do something just because you think you HAVE to, even if it looks completely different than anything you’ve ever done before. Think about what things make you happy and be willing to come up with ideas and options that may have sounded crazy a year ago but now feels “right.” One suggestion that can be helpful is always to have a Plan B. This may mean if you are attending a family get together that may include your ex or other family members (whether in person or virtually) that you have a way to get out of there if you find that it’s too much. That could be a friend who comes with you or someone you can call to bail you out if you just can’t take your Aunt’s nosy questions anymore.  If this is your first holiday season completely alone, it can help to think about ways to help others and volunteer your time. Helping others always makes us feel better and can do something good both for you and someone else. While it might not be possible to go somewhere to decorate for the holidays or serve a meal think about ways you can brighten someone’s day virtually. Maybe there’s a nursing home in your community that would allow you to do virtual visits or record messages, or make cards for their residents.  This is also something you can do with your children to teach them ways to give back during the holiday season and allow you guys to celebrate the holidays early if they’re with your ex this year.

Set Boundaries

Speaking of your Aunt’s nosy questions, be willing to do the hard work of setting boundaries both with yourself and with others. If you don’t want to talk about your ex and the divorce, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell your family that. It can even help give them a heads up ahead of time so that they know not to ask you, and then if they do, you can gently remind them of what you had already told them.  While you might find that your family members or friends get upset when you set boundaries, remember that the only people who get upset when you set boundaries are the ones who benefited from you having none. Anyone who truly cares about you and respects your feelings will understand that this is necessary for your well-being.

Be Forgiving

No matter what you do for the holidays this year or what happens, the most important thing is forgiving yourself and taking time around the holidays to do something just for you.  It’s ok if you don’t feel up for the same holiday traditions and events that you once did or if you find yourself bailing early on a party (even a zoom party this year) because you’d rather watch holiday movies on your couch and drink hot chocolate.  The first holidays alone can be really tough, especially in a year that it may be hard or impossible to surround yourself with other family like you might have been able to do pre-pandemic. Don’t be too hard on yourself for just making it through, and know that whatever you do is enough. Self-care is also super important around the holidays when we can find ourselves pulled in a million different directions and spending time and money on other people. Don’t forget about yourself. This may mean getting yourself a gift that you’ve been wanting or indulging in some pampering for yourself at home or just enjoying that new show you’ve been wanting to watch or even watching The Santa Claus for the 50th time.  Nobody can tell you how to spend your holidays, only you know what is really important to you and will make you happy.

Need help with your divorce this holiday? Contact San Diego Family Mediation Center at (858) 736-2411 today for more information.