My first Christmas Eve without my kids was a day I’d been dreading for a really long time, for almost one year to be exact.
When my ex-husband and I agreed to separate in October the year before, I asked him if we could wait until after the holidays. “I don’t want to put the kids through this during the holidays,” I said as we made the bed the next morning.
He agreed, but he also knew while I really did have our kids’ best interest at heart, I was trying to spare myself from feeling any extra angst during the holidays too. After all, you don’t spend years with someone, have a family with them, and not know when they are trying to keep their suffering at bay, too.
He later told me maybe he stayed longer than he should have because the thought of packing to move out with Christmas decorations and music in the background would have ruined the holidays for him.
But even with all the healing that had happened, the work I’d done on myself, and settling into the new routine, I was still feeling unsettled, desperate, and turned inside out every time I thought about doing anything without my kids during the holidays.
It was a going to be our new normal whether I liked it or not.
But… I was okay. I was sad and a bit lonely, but I was okay; it was all okay.
If I spent my days crying into my embroidered holiday pillows, my holidays probably wouldn’t have been okay and I knew it. So, in the weeks leading up the holidays, I decided I could either suffer in silence or I could do something about it.
I chose to do something about it — not just for me, but also for my children. I don’t care who you are, if you have kids and you are sitting home alone sulking because they aren’t with you — they have a sixth sense and somehow, they just know. Whether you are a newly single parent or you’ve been single for a while and still haven’t adjusted to spending the holidays on your own, I want you to know there’s no need to panic and start tearing yourself to shreds thinking this will now be the time of year that will suck the most. It can actually be wonderful.Don’t give me the finger just yet — I mean, I would have had anyone said this to me when I was starting to dread the holidays the second my ex-husband moved out in February but, since I’ve been through it I am going to ask you to hear me out. Here are a few ways to make the holidays more bearable when you can’t be with your kids:
1. Make new plans.
Make some new plans with your kids sans your ex-partner, but make sure you take control and plan some fun things to occupy yourself during those times you think you might not make it through. It takes planning, and asking for help, but it made all the difference.
I asked my extended family to meet me for dinner on Christmas Eve at our favorite Japanese restaurant and they all wanted to go. I felt seen, supported, and I had a great time and the day flew by.
I’d also purposefully saved all my wrapping and shopping for stocking stuffers for the last minute, so I had something to do before and after. In the past, this would have stressed me out, but it was so luxurious to blast Christmas music and not worry about one of my kids walking in the middle of wrapping their gifts.
2. Don’t be afraid to do some of the same things, either.
For Thanksgiving, we always went to my mother’s house as a family and I was in charge of the pie. That year, my kids were with their dad and I went by myself. I still got up early to make the pie and I enjoyed it. I took the long way there and got a caffeinated beverage for the trip. It was quiet and peaceful.
It felt really good to stay in the routine and do something familiar and safe. The people who love you the most have a tendency to fill in the cracks for you when they know you are going through a big change. A big part of me wanted to hide, stay home, and just get take out. After really thinking about what that would look like, I knew it wouldn’t be uplifting at all. However, if that’s what you feel like doing, because you just aren’t feeling it — go with that. The idea is to make yourself feel safe and happy in any way you can.
3. Remember you can celebrate the holiday any day you want. If your ex has the kids for a major holiday, reschedule it on your terms. If you have special things you do with your kids on certain days of the year, it helps so much to keep on with it and the day of the year you celebrate has zero bearing. You can decide when and where you carry out traditions, and this way you aren’t giving up a thing.
4. Enjoy your alone time.
Listen, the holidays can be a really stressful time for everyone. I decided to enjoy the alone time I had and I was more relaxed than I had ever been since having kids, which was a big surprise to me. I got a massage, I ate chocolate covered cherries alone on the sofa, and I caught up on my sleep. It was glorious, and I headed into the New Year feeling like a new person.
Looking back, I was more afraid of the feelings I’d have to feel by being alone than anything else. But, when the time came, I took it all in. I made the most of it. I accepted I was going to have hard moments — which I did — and I survived them all.
But, what I took from my first year of not spending the entire holiday with my kids was I could do it, and I was capable of making the best out this new situation. In the end, my kids got a better version of me.
Since the dreaded first year, every holiday has gotten better and easier to navigate and I can honestly say I love the peace and quiet I have to make the time I get to spend with my kids count big time.
In fact, my three teenagers comment about how I don’t get stressed out anymore over the holidays. I could tell them it’s because I have more time to eat chocolate covered cherries without them up my ass every second and how nice it is to decorate and wrap presents without them here, but that might be taking it too far.
If you are struggling, or are afraid you are going to struggle this holiday season, I see you. But I promise, making a few small changes can soften the edges and you are going to be okay. There is a silver lining — it takes some digging, but you will find it.
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