The holidays, which are fast approaching, often accentuate the grief of divorced people, particularly the newly divorced. It is often an all too poignant reminder of the dreams we have lost and the loneliness we feel.
The last holiday season I spent with my former wife and our two children was 2008. At the time, I thought it would probably be our last. In 2010, twelve holiday seasons ago, I spent my first Christmas without my children. If some of you are spending your first Thanksgiving or Christmas without your children, I hope these words bring you some comfort.
On my first Christmas without my kids, I didn’t really want to do something festive. I wanted to go skiing or stay home and watch Christmas movies by myself. Instead, my well-meaning mother insisted that I go to my sister’s house with her and my dad. Of course, my sister was welcoming, but I still felt awkward. Celebrating Christmas morning with somebody else’s children didn’t really do anything to ease the loneliness I felt and the longing for my own children. If I had that Christmas to do over, I’d have gone skiing, rented Christmas movies, and stayed at home in the evening with a cup of hot cocoa—and called my children on the phone.
I am not suggesting this is the right answer for everyone. I’m merely saying that well-meaning people will want to make sure you are okay, and that you have “some place to go” to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. If that’s what you want, then great. But there’s nothing they can do to make it okay that you don’t have your kids. It’s neither okay or not okay. It just is.
Bucking the conventional wisdom, I didn’t want some place to go and feel like a party crasher. I didn’t want to be that poor divorced uncle that we must be kind to because he is having a rough time without his kids. Now, I understand these were my own thoughts and not necessarily what my sister and her family really believed. In any event, I did what I did that year to please other people and just stuffed down the pain I was feeling.
If you are spending your first Thanksgiving or Christmas apart from your children, I want you to think of yourself and what is best for you, instead of trying to please someone else. I would say the same if you are celebrating any subsequent Thanksgiving or Christmas without your children. If you want to accept invitations to Thanksgiving dinner or even a loved one’s Christmas morning, feel free to do so and enjoy it. If you want to attend parties or dinners during the holiday season, I encourage you to do that and have a good time. But if you are grieving a loss and would just rather spend the day by yourself, feel free to do that too. It is not written by the finger of God how you are to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas. There is not a wrong way.
I know for some mid-singles with no children, there is a special connection to nieces and nephews. Spending Christmas morning with them might feel exactly right to you. And it could feel exactly right even if you have children but cannot spend the holiday with them because it is the other parent’s year. Do it your way.
A decade on, I am still dealing with divorce issues at holidays. My step kids were with us last Christmas. But the year before they were with their dad on Christmas morning. Cathy and I decided to do something a little less traditional. We went south to Utah County on Christmas Eve and met up with my son and daughter-in-law and my parents at a restaurant. That night we had a room reserved at the Provo Marriott. Because of Covid-19, there were not very many guests. We had the pool and the hot tub to ourselves. On Christmas morning, we slept in late and exchanged Christmas gifts with each other under the Christmas trees in the hotel lobby, and enjoyed the fabulous Christmas breakfast they put on—which included eggnog French toast, wassail, applewood bacon, etc. That afternoon we went to my son and daughter-in-law’s apartment and opened gifts with them and later to my parent’s house for the same reason. It was not a traditional Christmas, but it was memorable.
If you have a loved one to spend a holiday with, you can find a way to enjoy the holiday together. I suggest being creative in thinking of something you might like to do without your kids that you might not be able to do if they were with you. As a single, that might have meant going skiing or just watching heartwarming Christmas movies by myself or with other single friends. Now married, it meant meeting up at a restaurant with loved ones and spending the night in a great hotel and eating a fabulous breakfast together on Christmas morning—without having to cook it.
We mixed in some time with loved ones, without spending the entire day. I’m thinking we’ll probably do some variation on that plan this year as we don’t have the kids again. However, this year we don’t have the kids for Thanksgiving either. My brother and his family have invited us to celebrate with them. They generally have a number of extended family for Thanksgiving, including my sister-in-law’s unmarried siblings. Because of this extended family dynamic, we don’t feel like party crashers. We will gladly attend their dinner and enjoy celebrating together.
If you are hurting because you don’t have your kids on a special holiday this year, you have our understanding and empathy. We’ve been there. Divorce creates special challenges around special times, including holidays, weddings, and other such events. If you are just getting started with this process, give yourself some compassion. Christmas might just be a day to take care of you in whatever way helps you the most.
I remember one Christmas when I was a mid-single and didn’t have my children, I bought small and relatively inexpensive gifts for the children of other mid-singles. I spent Christmas Eve driving all over the place delivering those gifts. It was great fun having an excuse to visit friends and bring a little extra cheer to their kids. I know another former mid-single who used to volunteer at a soup kitchen when he didn’t have his kids. Sometimes thinking of a creative way to help someone else celebrate will bring a little joy back to you. Come to think of it, there is a story about another meaningful Christmas Eve I spent as a mid-single in chapter 20 of our book, “Intentional Courtship.”
We feel great compassion for many of you who are experiencing the complications of divorce during the holidays. We used to think of the holidays as a beautiful time together as families, celebrating our love of Christ and each other. If your family has been broken by divorce, that can be a complicated thing. You may even feel you have less to celebrate than others. But, whatever your situation, when you are facing a holiday without your children, give yourself a Christmas present. Do something kind for yourself you have really been wanting to do that might be a little splurge.
God bless you with a joyous holiday season!
Also Published in Meridian Magazine November 7, 2022