We’re already well into November, which as you well know means the holiday season is approaching.
Whatever holidays you celebrate in November and December – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, or another – if you’re a single mom, depending on how your custody arrangement is structured, you’ll likely find yourself facing one or more of these holidays without your kids while they visit with your ex.
It might seem a bit soon, but now is the time to begin making plans for how to spend the holiday time when your kids are away so that you’re not spending the holiday focusing on not having them around.
To be clear, my job as a coach is to help my clients to understand the thoughts going on in their brains that create the emotions that drive their actions, not their actions themselves.
But I’m willing to step outside of that role for this post, mostly because I’ve been there. The November/December holidays tend to create strong emotions for many of us. A few suggestions can be really helpful to alleviate negative emotions that amplify the sense of loss and longing for your children when they’re away over that time.
To that end, I’m going to offer a few suggestions on ways to plan how you spend your time on the holidays – well in advance – so you can focus your thoughts BEFORE any holiday emotions creep in.
This can also serve as an exercise in taking action and managing our thoughts well in advance of any situation that we consider to be a less than ideal. Taking positive action provides you with a sense of accomplishment and control that prevents our brains from allowing “I’m-without-my-kids-on-a-holiday” blues to take front and center.
✅ Spend time with family and friends. This is a no-brainer, of course, but start to ask your inner circle about their plans now so that you know well in advance that you’re going to be spending that time in a way that occupies your mind with positive thoughts and emotions.
This means all of the upcoming holidays that you might be spending kid-less, now through to New Year’s Eve. Even if your family and friends haven’t begun to make plans that far out, you’ve put yourself on their respective radars for when they do.
✅ Serve a holiday meal at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. This can do wonders for filling your heart and mind with gratitude for what you do have, rather than what, or who, you’re doing without on a holiday.
✅ Do you have a specific talent, like singing, dancing, or playing an instrument? Offer to entertain for an hour or so at a nearby retirement home or assisted living facility.
✅ If you don’t have an artistic talent, volunteer to read to patients at a children’s hospital. This provides a double reward of offering relief and entertainment to both the children and their parents during a hospitalization that spans a holiday.
✅ Help feed the animals at an animal shelter. In the absence of your kids, what could be more healing for your heart than kitten snuggles and puppy kisses, amirite? 🐱 🐶
Pro tip: many organizations require a volunteer application, orientation, and even security clearance prior to starting volunteer work, so it’s best to contact them well in advance to get all of those arrangements in place before the holidays.
✅ For something fun and different, why not volunteer to help run or be a part of a holiday parade? You can lend a hand on any number of things from organizing the high school marching bands, helping decorate a parade float, to driving the local beauty queen around in a sharp-looking convertible.
✅ Get a jump on the holiday shopping. While I prefer not to encourage companies to force employees to spend time away from their families on a holiday, I also accept that by now it’s simply become another fact of life. So, you may as well use it to your advantage.
Many major retailers open on Thanksgiving evening, and some malls and their anchor department stores do as well. Use the time to accomplish lots of holiday shopping without the distractions of having your kids with you.
Christmas day is a different story, with far fewer places open for business. But a simple Google search will usually show what’s open near you along with any special holiday hours.
✅ Head to Starbucks or Cracker Barrel in the morning and relax with a good book and a cup of coffee. While it’s not exactly hot-chocolate-by-the-fire cozy, it adds a tone of normalcy to the day, instead of a steady flow of reminders that it’s a holiday and you are without your kids.
Pro tip: bring ear buds and your favorite music to drown out the Christmas tunes if needed. If you’re like me, certain songs bring up holiday memories with strong emotional ties. Just 30 seconds into the tune and the waterworks are a-flowin. And there I am in a public place yanking tissue after tissue out of my handbag to dry up the tears. 🚰
✅ Help a friend Santa prep. I knew of two divorced mom-friends whose had their respective kids at home for Christmas Eve on opposite years. When the kids were young they took turns helping one another with last minute Santa duties like wrapping presents and assembling bikes and doll houses. Break out the scissors, tape, wrapping paper, and a bottle of wine, and you’ve got a fun little party in the making!
✅ See a movie. Many theaters are open on Christmas and Thanksgiving, and throughout Hannukah and Kwanzaa. It’s a great opportunity to see a movie that may not be appropriate for your kids.
✅ Try a new cuisine. If you live in an area with a mixture of cultures, you may be in luck. Lots of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, and Jewish restaurants and delis are open – and busy – on Christmas day. Make it more fun by trying a cuisine you’ve never experienced before.
And some well-known chain restaurants such as Ruth’s Chris, Macaroni Grill, and McCormick & Schmick’s are open on Christmas with limited hours and/or menus. So grab a friend and head out for a nice meal and some deep connection time.
✅ Have a back-up plan. Don’t decide on one activity and let it go at that. Because what’s worse than being alone on a holiday because your plans fell through? Plus, having a backup offers the satisfaction of being able to choose from more than one way to spend your time.
Now here are a few things I recommend you not do on a holiday:
✖️ Spend the time on mundane activities such as cleaning and organizing your house just to get ‘caught up’, unless you’re doing so because you’ve invited people to your place for a holiday get-together.
✖️ Decide to spend the time finally organizing all of your photos (or anything surrounding sentimental memories). The last thing you want to do is spend several hours looking at pictures of your kids while you’re missing them.
✖️ Use the time to catch up on work. No matter how well you think it will take your mind off the fact that it’s a holiday, the day off is meant for unplugging, relaxing, and recharging. Spend it reinforcing your commitment to work-life balance. The emails and reports will still be there when you return.
So again, while these are just a few suggestions for actions to take to help redirect your thoughts over the holidays, the most important thing I want you to remember is the ability you have to manage your thinking during that time.
If you direct your energy toward choosing thoughts that serve you, rather than make you feel sad and lonely, you open yourself up to experiencing the holidays post-divorce in a way you never thought possible.
If you feel like you could use help navigating the holiday season, working with a coach can be just what you need. It’s a great gift to give to yourself.
You can give coaching a ‘test drive’ with a free 30-minute consultation with me. Click here to sign up for a time that works for you.