reach out

Even Holidays Like The 4th Of July Can Be Hard On Your Divorced Friends

Check in with them — it means more than you know.

Two young women meeting at a barbecue with friends are greeting each other with excitement.
Hinterhaus Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images

When I was married, we visited my ex-husband’s very small hometown every year for the week of the 4th of July. There were lots of barbecues, badminton matches, and lazy days floating in the river watching fireworks from the boat. I looked forward to the trip every year; more importantly, my kids loved it. There was barely any cell reception, and they could spend the day in and out of the water, eating junk food. Their dad took the week off which meant lots of family time. And then we split up.

Five years ago, when I spent my first 4th of July alone, it was harder than I thought it would be. It was the summer after my ex-husband moved out, and he asked me well in advance if he could take the kids to the lake that week. Of course, I agreed — why should our kids miss out on a summer tradition we’d been doing for so long? I told myself I’d stay busy with friends and family, read, and try to enjoy the alone time. Not so much, unfortunately, it was a little harder than I expected.

I’d be fine one moment, and the next I’d find myself crying, my head down on my steering wheel because I’d see a family crossing the street holding mini flags. I wasn’t able to attend the local 4th of July parade because it brought up too many memories.

In the years since my ex has continued taking the kids for the week, and it’s still tough. I’ve had years where I worked right through the week trying to forget it was even a holiday. One year I decided to clean out my house and read three books. I’ve gone to the beach with friends and family because the thought of spending the 4th without my kids wasn’t getting any easier.

Now I spend the day with my boyfriend at a different lake with his family and without my kids. I sometimes think I’d be better off if I stayed home alone but I also know I need to move forward. He knows it’s still hard for me and I miss my kids terribly. When I drop them off with their dad, he’s aware I am going to be quiet and he lets me have my space and time to feel sorry for myself (which is totally allowed).

I thought the bigger holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving would be the tough ones post-divorce. I was so consumed with how I’d get those days that something like not being with my kids on the 4th of July, while everyone else seemed to be doing cookouts with their families, hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. If you have a divorced friend who is going to be without their kids on the 4th of July (or any holiday for that matter), check on them. Chances are they are feeling alone and they don’t want to burden you by including themselves in your plans.

Perhaps you are spending a holiday with a divorced or separated friend and they are really quiet. Maybe they seem like they don’t want to be there. Be patient with them and know that having company means the world to them.

Chances are good that their silence is coming from the void of not having their children and losing valuable family traditions. And as much as they want their kids to be having a great time and not worry about them, they realize their children are making memories without them, and it hurts.

Single parents never quite get over not being with their kids on holidays. Sure, it gets easier. We learn how to adjust and enjoy our time while they are away. But it always stings. It’s a long process, and there will be days they will feel okay and strong and days they are filled with nostalgia and a range of emotions.

Reach out to your divorced friends when you can during a holiday. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture — a simple text or call to say hello can literally turn their day around. They are going through a huge life change and knowing someone is thinking of them can make all the difference.

Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.