The holiday season is coming up and, unfortunately, this time of year can bring feelings of anxiety and loneliness for parents going through a divorce or separation. Studies show that this season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s) is the most difficult time of the year for families in conflict. Nowhere is this more true than in Westchester where the concept of the traditional “family” is such a big part of our suburban life. Whether you live in a huge house in Scarsdale, a townhouse in Mt. Kisco, or an apartment in White Plains, the silence of not being with your children for all or part of the holiday season can be deafening.
In my mediation practice I frequently witness the pain and sadness of parents who see the holiday season as a constant reminder of happier times and who desperately miss their children when they are spending time with their other parent. But there are ways to minimize this emotional pain and even find happiness in creating new traditions and experiences.
Most of the below suggestions have come from my clients. I hope they can be of help to you:
- Start new traditions: Divorce should be seen as a new beginning. It is the perfect time to reassess the past and start living the life you want. Instead of sitting in your house feeling sorry for yourself, go out and start new traditions that can become a part of how you choose to redefine your new life.
Some of my mediation clients have found great satisfaction in volunteering. There are so many worthwhile charities in Westchester that desperately need additional help during this time of the year. And what better way to forget about your own troubles than by focusing on others?
Other clients have chosen to prepare a meal for friends and family members that they have never hosted before. Get out your cookbook or the menu from your favorite take out restaurant and begin a new tradition. New Year’s Day brunch… A Chanukah night for neighbors…? The choice is yours. Just make it festive and fun. If you are not excited by either of these options, I’m sure that you can come up with a new holiday ritual that resonates more with you. Dig deep …… the choices are endless.
- Exercise: Okay, I know that most of you are now cringing. But exercise has been proven again and again to be one of the best mood lifters. If you despise the idea of going to the gym, there are so many other options here in Westchester. Consider the beautiful hiking trails, rock climbing (indoor or out), dance lessons (from jazz to pole,) yoga, and boxing, to name just a few. And if none of these options appeal to you, go for a walk around your neighborhood. Pick whatever you find most palatable and “just do it.” Guaranteed, you will feel better.
- Stay Social: I know that your natural response during this difficult period might be to hibernate and avoid others. But force yourself to be social. By this I don’t mean that you need to be around others at all times. Accept just the holiday invitations that appeal the most to you. Make plans with friends and family that are supportive of you and understand what you are going through. The trick is to spend time with those that make you feel good about yourself and avoid those that don’t. All of my clients have reported that although it might to be hard to get out the front door, when they do push themselves they come home feeling better than when they left.
- Nourish yourself emotionally and spiritually: Divorce and separation are hard on everyone and it is important to take care of yourself both spiritually and emotionally — especially during the holiday season. While your children are away with their other parent, use this time to take special care of yourself. You deserve it. Focus on you for once and do what you need to feel good. This means different things to different people. It may be a massage, meditation, speaking to a therapist, or attending religious services. By doing this, you will be a better parent to your children when you are with them.
These are some of the suggestions that have worked for my clients. I would love to know what has worked for you!