I grew up in a blended family, so I considered divorce to be “normal.” It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I began to understand how my childhood had played into my decision to practice family law.
I later founded my own law firm and received certification to be a collaborative law attorney and a parenting coordinator. As a collaborative law attorney, I worked with clients in a more holistic manner, resolving legal disputes over children, money and relationships, without the use of litigation. Similarly, as a parenting coordinator, I served as a neutral third party appointed by the court to help parents reduce conflict and act in the best interests of children.
During this time, my personal life was growing and developing just as quickly as my professional life. I got married and became a mother to three boys, despite the odds presented to me by my physicians and fertility specialists alike. I felt an infallible sense of purpose and drive.
But by June 2018, I realized my marriage was in trouble. I felt like we were both burying what was deep in our souls, and it was impacting me personally and professionally.
We made it through the holidays, and we did our best to keep things “normal” for our children during our conflict, but after Hanukkah and Christmas passed, I felt like the real end was near. I wanted so badly to keep my “never give up” attitude but by the time January 2019 rolled around, I felt myself emotionally slipping away. It was at this point that my spouse and I decided to separate.
During that festive period, while my partner and I were separating, I spent a lot of time wondering what my clients had experienced during the holidays that they hadn’t shared. As a divorce attorney for 20 years, I thought I knew it all—as a divorced mother, I learned even more.
Three ways to cope with being newly divorced during the holidays
1. Make new traditions
My first Christmas as a single parent, December 2019, I knew it was time to make new traditions and embrace change. But, despite my professional experience helping clients to negotiate old traditions and develop new ones, I was at a complete loss.
If you thought hiding the Elf on the Shelf was hard to remember when your relationship was intact, wait to see how hard it is to remember when you are a single parent! It was one of the first traditions that I slowly had to let go—and once their dad had a new elf, it felt safe to allow the tradition at my house to end.
Your new parenting schedule might mean you need to change your previously established way of doing things—for example, your tradition of exchanging gifts with extended family might now fall during the other parent’s parenting time.
In this scenario, you might consider a New Year’s gathering instead of Hanukkah or Christmas. Think of how you managed celebrations during the peak of COVID using HouseParty, Zoom or your other favorite app. Give yourself permission to do things differently and your children will follow suit.
2. Don’t try to compete with your ex-partner
I remember how it felt the first time the children came home from their dad’s house and said they had just had a white Christmas, thanks to some fake snow blowers. “Wow! Amazing!”, I said to them. No way was I going to be able to top that, I thought.
They began to open presents and their disappointment reared its ugly head. They said I was always the one who gave the best gifts, so where were the best gifts? I was devastated that I had let them down, that I felt in competition with their dad, or that they wanted more than they already had.
From then on, when it came time to make our parenting schedule, I knew I wouldn’t be asking to split Christmas Day again. I didn’t want to put myself or my children in a situation that felt like competition on a holiday that should be about making memories and being with family.
When you center your kids in your decision-making, it makes it a lot easier to focus on what matters and to let go of your own ego. But, at the same time, remember to focus on who you are as a parent and what you bring to the table.
Some time after separation, one of my children reminded me of how I mattered to him and how I always knew what he was thinking. He will probably never know what those words meant to me or how much I needed to hear that from him. It was a great reminder that we don’t have to be great spouses to be incredible parents.
3. Accept your emotions
The holidays can be difficult for separated, divorced, and blended families, especially for children. If you don’t know how to respond to questions over the holidays, acknowledge their feelings but give yourself some grace and time before you react or respond. So much can be learned in silence, and never forget: you don’t have to have all the answers.
Feelings of sadness, uncertainty, failure and guilt are natural, regardless of why the divorce happened. In hindsight, I hadn’t readied myself as much as I could have to endure the emotional rollercoaster that often goes hand-in-hand with divorce. I was in denial of all of those feelings in the first year, trying to outrun my feelings by “doing” instead of feeling.
But allowing yourself to feel means you are taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. Identify your coping strategies, whether they be exercise, meditation, counseling, nature or journaling. Whatever it is, it should leave you more aligned with your values and the essence of who you want to be.
Divorce is many things, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it can be an opportunity for a new start, informed by your experiences.
Nicole Sodoma is a divorce attorney and the author of Please Don’t Say You’re Sorry.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
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