Hi, divorced people! Yes, the holidays are upon us. Whoop dee fucking hoo!
What are you serving with your turkey this year? A side of resentment? Loneliness? Maybe some sickeningly sweet vengeance for dessert?
A better question: Where will your sad little handoff be? The deserted HomeGoods parking lot in the middle of T-Day, so the kids can eat with both families? Or do you just do the my-year/your-year bit, so you can either pretend that EVERYTHING IS FINE AND NORMAL one year and then wallow in the sad knowingness that THIS IS NOT WHAT I WAS PROMISED the next?
In any case, here we all are.
As all of our still-married friends go about sliding into the holiday season, we know that none of them will have to block out a good chunk of time to go over the custody schedule and figure out exactly which days they will and won’t be seeing their kids. They also don’t have to figure out exactly which days/events are most likely to stir up crazy divorce drama, and then figure out how to mitigate it in advance. So when they talk to us about holiday stress … we smile and think you have no idea.
And if you’re remarried and your spouse also has kids, you have to sit down in front of multiple computer screens, War Games-style, to coordinate several calendars at the same time.
This is the worst part about being divorced.
Actually … it’s not. I’m showing tremendous self restraint here. If only I could hook up a pedometer to my backspace key … step goal!
So no, it’s not the worst part. But it is the most disappointing part. Because now and forever, if we choose it to be so, the holidays will be served up with a side of sadness.
Flipping the narrative
I have long believed that life is about the stories we tell ourselves.
Back when I was getting divorced in 2010, my friend and life coach Trish Omoqui told me this: Your divorce doesn’t have to be the biggest tragedy in your life. (I have quoted this in is many blog post posts over the years, because it was so powerful. See here and here.)
That one statement flipped the whole narrative for me. During my five years of single motherhood, I did have moments of feeling bad for myself. It’s true.
But I mostly felt like a badass. Like, “Hi, yes, I’m going to hoist this Christmas tree on top of the car myself and then get it down off the car myself and haul it into the house myself and put it up in the stand myself and I AM THE SUPREME RULER OF THIS HOLIDAY! See kids? Mommy is getting it done!”
(Of course, that was after carefully testing the tree before we bought it to make sure it wasn’t too heavy for me to lift on my own.)
Joe still has to remind me that I’m not the only adult in the house sometimes. “You know, Trish … there’s no need to fix that with a butter knife. I have actual tools and I know how to use them.” Oh.
The calendar is your bitch
Yes, being divorced over the holidays is it’s own particular suckfest, but it doesn’t have to be as terrible as everyone makes it out to be.
I have had more than one person tell me that they desperately want to get divorced, but then they think about spending Christmas morning alone in a townhouse somewhere … and it’s too much to take. (BTW, it never ceases to amaze me how people so easily disparage townhouses. I loooooved mine. No outdoor maintenance? Are you kidding me? This is a narrative that needs some flipping.)
It’s really easy to get bummed out if you’re not going have your kids on the actual day of a major holiday. But I try not to let that get me down too much.
For years, I’ve been telling myself and the kids that the “holidays” aren’t just one day. We can stretch them out like taffy and mold them into whatever we want. And let’s face it, even if you’re not divorced, seeing EVERYONE that you need to see within one calendar day is super stressful. This is especially true when kids get older and start having their own families … it just doesn’t make sense to hold people accountable to showing up one specific day in order to prove their love and affection.
Isn’t it better to pull the stress and the drama out of it?
That’s why, this year, I instituted FAKESgiving. It happened by accident, but it ended up being pretty great.
We have zero kids on Thanksgiving this year but I wanted to do the big feast with all them anyway. And Benjamin has a November birthday and I had a birthday dinner to make … so I suggested doing turkey. He was all for it. And then poof! FAKESgiving was born.
I cooked from 9 until around 3 or 3:30. Made the turkey, the pies, the potatoes … all of it. The meal was delicious (if I may say so myself) and the dinner was perfectly imperfect, as most family gatherings are.
By the time I sat down, I was sort of over all the food. Benjamin had to leave early to go to someone else’s birthday party. And my mom was in the hospital and she was supposed to join us and Benjamin was sad that she wasn’t there … but Megan and I brought her a plate later.
At dinner, I asked everyone to say what they were thankful for, and mostly everyone had lame answers. But that made it feel even more authentically Thanksgivingy. Bad answers to this question are like lumps in the gravy—unfortunate, totally predictable, yet also sort of delicious.
So my point is this: It ended being pretty awesome. And now, I keep forgetting that the rest of the country hasn’t had Thanksgiving yet.
Tomorrow, Joe and I will have Thanksgiving with his family. We will enjoy the food and the people and the conversation and we can be happy, knowing that we already had Thanksgiving with the kids.
If you’re not having Thanksgiving with your kids tomorrow, I encourage you to WORK HARD to not give in to feeling shitty. If you truly need to feel shitty, schedule a time to do it. Decide that from 10-11 AM is your wallow-in-your-sadness time and really go for it. Cry. Beat up pillows. Reflect on what a fantastic loser you are … and then at 11 when your alarm goes off (you should definitely set one), you have to stop and go outside and talk a walk. (More excellent advice from Trish Omoqui, and also my therapist from years ago.)
CHOOSE to not make tomorrow a tragedy. Choose to enjoy where you are and what you’re doing. Know that your kids are coming back and you can do something special with them then.
Hugs to all my divorced peeps out there. Whether this holiday #1 for you or holiday #toomanytocount, remember that we’ll all get through this.