Regardless of our faith and what holidays we celebrate, holiday preparation and celebration can frequently make us feel more stressed than mellow and more sad than joyful.
Did you ever wonder why? The media makes a big deal out of holidays—both the “real” ones and the made-up ones and, perhaps, creates an image it can be hard to live up to. A big part of what holidays are supposed to look like is connection to family—from the intimacy of being a couple to the raucous laughter of a huge family gathering around the table. This can be especially difficult if you are newly “uncoupled” after age 50, the phenomenon known as “gray divorce”. While the divorce rate for younger couples in this country has gone down, the divorce rate for couples over 50 has actually doubled. The more years you have been with your partner, the more likely you are to have adult children, grandchildren and a long list of extended family –all of whom have their own expectations of holiday traditions.
Despite the increasing numbers of couples divorcing later in life, there has been very little research conducted on the emotional impact, either for the couples themselves or for their adult children. Adult children in their 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s have lived their entire lives with two parents and long-established traditions. They are often devastated by the break-up and may have a very difficult time understanding or reconciling the reality of the split.
Some ideas to help you navigate, whether it’s Christmas, Passover or any occasion when family gathers and expectations are high:
- Be the parent. Refrain from dragging your children into your own distress. It’s OK to let them know you are sad but they are not your therapist.
- Remember that your kids may have conflicting loyalties. Refrain from asking them to take sides, especially if you find yourself at the holiday dinner table with your ex.
- Create a plan for holiday celebrations. If your holiday traditions have always included a big family meal or special time with the grandchildren be sure you and your kids have made an intentional plan for the day. It may be spending time all together or it may be creating new ways of celebrating. Maybe Mom goes to the first Passover Seder and Dad goes to the second. Maybe Thanksgiving takes place twice. There are lots of creative ways to approach special occasions.
- Set a positive intention for your behavior. It is not necessary to rehash the issues or open old wounds at a family gathering. Forget the old expression “it is what it is” and try “it is what we make of it” as an alternative.
- Practice diversion. One of the things newly single people dread is the prying relative who is trolling for details about your breakup. When asked about the break up you might say, “I really can’t talk about that just now. How are you feeling since you got over the flu? I know that was a bad case.”
- Do a mitzvah (good deed) and volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to reach out, help someone else and be engaged in activities that are meaningful. You might also give the gift of quality time to a friend or family member. Maybe it’s a long walk and conversation or providing some respite care for the caregivers you know.
- Bring the party to you. Don’t wait to be invited to someone else’s house. Throw a party, host a holiday meal (make it pot luck) or invite a few friends over for a festive evening.
- Prepare yourself for any alone time you might have. You may want to connect with friends, binge-watch your favorite series or settle in with a good book. Just be prepared so you don’t find yourself moving into self-pity mode.
- Practice gratitude.
- Practice self-care. Exercise, massage, bubble baths, getting enough rest, eating healthy.
And one last thing: Be careful about your alcohol consumption. Alcohol has a sneaky way of moving us from mellow to morose before we know what hit. The very worst feeling is waking up the next morning wishing we could take back what we said the night before.
Want more help? Contact Dr. Andrea Taylor at Woman’s Encore.