Being without your children on holidays may be the most emotionally painful time a single parent can experience. If you have a parenting schedule in place, and you have agreed with your co-parent to celebrate holidays separately, childless holidays are unavoidable.
Holidays are typically characterized by tradition, rituals, family gatherings, and children with red cheeks, off from school, bursting with excitement and anticipation. Add to that your warm and fuzzy childhood holiday memories, and you have an emotionally loaded time.
So no wonder we feel lonely wthout our little ones on these days, - not to mention the guilt that may creep in for having disrupted their tradition and flow.
I would like to offer a little guidance on this topic and share a story with you to help shift your Pain to Peace this holiday.
First, when you and your co-parent develop your parenting agreement (or "custody and visitation order"), you may ask yourselves - and if you are on speaking terms - discuss the following questions:
- Have we covered everything? - Do yourselves and your children a favor and make sure that you have your important holidays scheduled, so your kids know what to expect, and to prevent unpleasant surprises just before the holidays because of unexpressed expectations.
- Can we comfortably continue to celebrate at least part of the holidays together?
- If we are not comfortable celebrating holidays together, how can we share time with our children with the least disruption for them, and the most comfort for ourselves, - and perhaps the rest of the family?
- As for relatives and friends who might have reservations about spending holidays with your co-parent, appeal to them to be understanding of your wishes and family situation, and let them opt out if need be.
Should you find yourself alone and missing your children for the holidays, perhaps even in blame of your co-parent, take some deep breaths and know that there is an opportunity in your discomfort. Know that you can overcome your blues.
Recently I decided to stay home and work on Christmas Eve and join my son and his dad at dad's parents' house, a four hour journey away, on Christmas Day instead.
Chistmas Eve in my homeland, Denmark, is a happy celebration. We trim the Christmas tree, dine for hours, play games, sing, dance around the tree, and open gifts. Like all my other Christmas Eve's in the US, I had forgotten how homesick I tend to get on that very special day.
As I was seeing my son off, who was all excited to go to Grammy and Grampy's, his dad asked me with a concerned look on his face, "Are you sure you don't want to come down today? Will you be ok?" I responded, "Thank you. I'll be fine. I am going to get a lot of work done and the dogs need me. See you tomorrow."
When I entered our cozy little cabin I was hit with an energy of emptiness. I tried to brush it off and sat down at the computer to get to work. Immediately I got back up and grabbed the phone to check in on my family in Denmark. I must have interrupted their dinner and dance-around-the-tree half a dozen times. I called a couple of friends, one of them as far away as New Zealand, stared at my computer screen, and took the dogs on a miserable walk. Finally I listened to the radio broadcast of my son's Christmas concert with the Symphony Orchestra Children's Chorus, which sent me into hours of sobbing... I missed my baby and my family, I felt lonely, and I was squirming with guilt for being such a wimp and for not getting any work done. I tried to work through my discomfort with various methods of meditation but felt no release until evening, when I finally surrendered to my emotions. To missing my son, to the loneliness, the guilt, and the homesickness. I accepted and embraced it all and very quickly sank into a serene state of blissful Peace. I went to bed, had sweet dreams, and left for Grammy and Grampy's the next morning. Christmas Eve actually did turn into a Silent and Holy night for me.
These are my learnings from this experience and from years past, before my son's dad and I realized that we didn't have to spend holidays apart:
- Make it your special day. If you set goals, be ok with not meeting them.
- If you get invited to a friend's or family member's home, make sure not to commit and that they will understand if you end up deciding to stay home. (There is nothing worse than sitting at a friend's dinner table with tears in your eyes, feeling inadequate because, in your distress, you overcooked the dish you promised to bring). You may just want to be alone.
- Line up some friends to call, but be selective, and understand that your friends may offer a good ear and shoulder, but they cannot help you overcome your grief.
- If you feel anger towards your co-parent, I invite you to look at it and assess the reality of it. Embrace your anger, let it find its place and watch as it settles down.
- Know that you are perfect, that there is nothing wrong with you. Nothing needs fixing.
- Don't try to shoo your painful emotions away. They are perfectly instinctual, natural and real. Instead, allow yourself to fully surrender to them, accept and embrace them as lovingly as you would your children. Observe your beautiful shift from Pain to Peace and celebrate. You will end up with a warm memory.
I wish you a blissful holiday - with or without your children.