6 Tips for Surviving Your First Holiday Season After Divorce

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Change can be hard. Depending on your arrangement, you may or may not have your kids for Thanksgiving or Christmas. No matter your situation, here are some tips on not only surviving the holiday season, but for thriving.

  1. Create New Traditions Look at this as a great opportunity to do things your way. Were there things you did during the holidays that didn’t bring you joy? Think about the traditions you had and want to keep. Think about traditions you loved that got dropped during your marriage. Find new traditions by talking to friends and searching online. I love being active and playing football (or some kind of sport) on Thanksgiving. My ex liked to sit on the couch so we never did those things. My boys loved spending our first Thanksgiving with my family and doing fun things like playing football and Twister.
  2. Practice Self Care Remember to go easy on yourself. The holidays are hectic. They can be stressful and busy for some and lonely and awkward for others. No matter where you are on that spectrum, remember to not isolate yourself. As human beings, we crave connections. We want to be around people who understand us and “get” us. So, whether that’s your family or your friends, make sure to spend time with them. That first season, I cut back on my social schedule. I spent more time with close friends and family where it felt like a warm blanket on a cold night and made sure I did things that brought me comfort.
  3. Make a Budget Too often, we try to recreate the gift giving we were able to do when there were two incomes. Accept that there is just one income. Remember when you were a kid? What do you remember most? The feeling of family or the gifts you received? My favorite holiday memories are when we went to my great grandparents house at the lake. Those times with all of my cousins, eating, playing games, having fun and watching football are some of my favorite. Trying to stretch your finances thin will just increase your stress.
  4. Answer Questions Factually If your children are small, they may not understand why their other parent isn’t there. Even older children may not truly understand that a divorce means you aren’t getting back together and what that first year truly looks like. Understand that they will be upset. It isn’t that they don’t want to be with you, it’s just that they miss their other parent too. Tell them that you understand their feelings and it’s okay that they miss them and that it’s normal. You can also explain (if this is the case) that they’ll get two Christmases – one with mom and one with dad.
  5. Help Others Helping others and seeing other people in different and sometimes worse circumstances can help give you perspective. Remember that to give is to receive. When you focus on making someone else’s day brighter, making someone else’s smile bigger, it takes the focus away from your pain and discomfort. It also gives your problems perspective.
  6. Be Patient Understand that the first year will be hard, not only on you, but also your children as you all adjust to a new normal. You may not get everything right all of the time. It’s okay because we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up over them. Learn from them and move on. This is my biggest hurdle. When there is a problem or something that hurts my children, I want to fix it.

We are a product of our environment and what we choose to focus on. When we focus on positive images and joyfulness, we can internalize that and spread joy. If we focus on what we don’t have and negative images, that is what we will spread. May your holidays be merry and bright!

Post Divorce: What I Learned on 30 First Dates

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After my divorce, I had little idea what kind of guy I wanted to end up with. I met my ex-husband when I was 19. Prior to that, I only had a handful of relationships, but always had lots of guy friends.

I decided to be open to dating the whole spectrum: guys from their mid-20s to early-60s with incomes ranging from hourly workers to men with enough personal wealth they don’t ever have to work another day in their life. It spanned professional athletes to desk jockeys. I thought I’d find some commonalities between age groups or income/education levels, but nope. Communications styles, levels of commitment, levels of energy, and the way they treated me all differed. It just boils down to the individual and what type of guy he is.

Honestly, when I was going through my divorce, besides finances, getting back into the dating scene was one of the most terrifying thoughts of being single. But, it’s been enjoyable. Even the skirt chasers are entertaining. I’ve ended up staying friends with a few of my dates and we have enlightening conversations about the different sexes, dating, parenting and just life.

Buyer beware of these types

Bench warmer (still finding myself/still a boy): These guys are the most frustrating because some of them have potential. But if they aren’t going to get off the bench to chase you, you need to move on. They lurk. When you find yourself saying a guy has potential, no matter how many boxes he checks or that feeling you get, you need to move on. If and when he ever decides to step up to bat, then he can get in the game. Until then, you’re better off alone.

Emotionally unavailable: These are harder to spot. Sometimes you can get further down the road with someone and realize they are never going to be able to take a relationship to the next level. Something is holding them back. It may be an ex, or something else that has happened. My friend got mixed up with someone who was very unavailable. It didn’t stop him from pulling her close and then pushing her away. It’s not a good place to be.

Take a hard look at how you feel around him. Do you mostly feel anxiety or do you know where you stand? Even if there are brief periods of feeling amazing, but most of the time you’re just anxious, then they may be emotionally unavailable.

Skirt chaser: These guys are all about the chase. You will never be enough because you aren’t special to them, no one is. They just want a skirt to chase, doesn’t matter which skirt, so long as they are “in the game.” Once they feel they’ve caught you, they don’t know what to do with you and they’re on to the next one. This one is easier to spot quickly, just look at his Facebook friend list. TONS of single women? Yep, red flag.

The funniest example of this was when I went to a work conference. Some mutual friends introduced me to this guy (I’m assuming it was for the sole reason of us both being single, because as soon as he opened his mouth, I was like ‘no’.) He grabbed my phone and put in his number using the nickname “hot pants.” Classy. I bumped into him throughout the conference and he made no effort to be discreet when he’d check out a woman. I’m talking craned neck, walking backward. Total cheese. Subcategory: F-boy as in “send me a pic babe.” No Thanks!

I do kinda feel bad for them. There will always be someone prettier, funnier, sweeter, hotter, whatever-er. What they don’t understand is that there’s always someone “better” than them too – hotter, more successful, fitter, etc. What matters is that someone choses you for you and for all of your quirks.

The rescuer: These guys want someone to take care of, or rescue. They barely know you and they want to spoil you, take you on trips, fly you away and just overwhelm you with stuff. For me, this means strings and a cage. No thanks, I’m not a puppet. I’d rather be single and independent. This does not include someone who is just trying to do something nice for you or be there for you after you’ve gotten to know each other. That’s normal. Pampering is one thing, trying to rescue you or buy your love? No Thanks!

The narcissist or control freak: Worst date was with a guy who spent the entire brunch talking about himself. If that wasn’t bad enough, he proceeded to order for both of us without consulting me and then told me how the food should be eaten with the different sauces. There aren’t enough mimosas in the world to make that tolerable. RUN!

Stage 5 clinger: Please get off me because I can’t deal with this. I need space. You make me want to move to Mars.

The guy next door: Luckily, most guys seem to fall in this category. They’re just normal, run-of-the-mill nice guys.

You may see yourself a bit in each of those categories, but these guys take things to a whole different level. Here’s the big self-awareness thing I learned: I’ve been guilty of being in most of these categories while going through my divorce (yep, another reason not to date before your divorce is final or for the first year after).

Lessons learned

Dating different guys helped me create a list of characteristics for what I want, which is a helpful exercise. I’m not married to that list though. I’ve noticed that a guy can check all of the boxes, but it comes down to that connection. It’s either there or it isn’t.

The whole process of dating allowed me to figure out what dating process make me the most comfortable, and what it will look like for anyone to be successful with me.

We all have baggage. It boils down to which imperfections you can live with. Those who are self-aware, warm, genuine and empathetic are the ones who are easiest for me to be around. A guy who is a kid at heart while also being responsible and having his sh*t together would be awesome.

The key lesson for me? Finding someone who captures my imagination and lights me on fire is rare. Like “shooting star” rare. I didn’t find that shooting star until after my divorce. It’s like eating McDonalds all of your life and then tasting something from Odd Duck or Trulucks. You just can’t go back to McDonalds. Even if you’re starving, break down and go through the drive-through anyway, it’s never satisfying so you’re just back to square one and craving some crab cakes.

Unfortunately, that shooting star didn’t work out, so I’ll just make a lot of friends in the meantime and hope another comes along. After all, there are a lot of stars and one of them will eventually shoot through the sky.

Because another thing I’ve learned is that there’s a TON of single people and guys are willing to drive and fly for miles just to go on a date with you.

Here’s to finding that shooting star!

The Shame Game and Domestic Violence

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In Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly,” she discusses shame, the importance of understanding and combating it. She says, “Language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.” She couldn’t be more right.

When I decided to leave my ex-husband for good, he set out to shame me in every way possible: my weight, my age, my looks, my ability as a mother, my worthiness as a future wife or partner, my ability to support myself and our children. Of course, that behavior had started long before, but it had never been a concerted, targeted and daily effort. He put all he had into it. He was laser-focused and deadly accurate. After all, we’d had 20 years together. He knew my fears and my weaknesses.

He began an ongoing campaign to strip away the rest of my self-worth and my safety in every way possible. And he succeeded to a certain degree. His determination to “make me pay” was terrifying. His complete lack of remorse, his objectification of the mother of his children was fascinating from a research perspective, but mostly it was just frightening. He was cold. There was no remorse or empathy.

An absolute mess, I felt like I was drowning. I lived in a constant fight or flight mode while trying to function as a mom, car pool driver, friend, daughter and employee.

Near rock bottom and backed into another corner, something in me said, “eff that.” Why am I letting him define me? Why am I letting him determine my happiness? My future? My self-worth? Why am I continuing to give him control of my life? Isn’t that part of why I left?

Something happens when your deepest fears of shame and humiliation are reached, you realize that you have nothing else to lose. I also began to share with some of my friends what I was going through, even though some had already witnessed it. Their empathy and reassurance, combined with my new “eff that” attitude, was the life raft I needed to keep from drowning.

It was freeing. I decided I truly didn’t care what he thought. His issues are just that, HIS issues. I began to rebuild. I focused on the untethered joy I feel when I am with my children, my friends and alone. I focused on God, on the love I have for others, on loving myself.

Then he was arrested. His story hit the news and my first thought was to take my kids and return home to the safety and comfort of my family. All I could think of was, “we have to move.” How would my kids survive this? Other kids can be mean.

Then I took a moment to calm down. I’ve lost several loved ones and know from experience that one of the worst things you can do is make life-altering decisions in a crisis. So I took stock.

I was a child when my mom died. My family kept my day-to-day the exact same. I was not uprooted and it made the adjustment of life without her easier. I realized I couldn’t uproot my children and take them away from their friends, their schools, their neighborhood and everything they had ever known even if I just wanted the comfort and security of my family.

But then a great thing happened. There was an outpouring of support. For me. And more importantly, for my children. There was empathy, compassion and a love from my neighborhood. (If you’ve seen “Bad Moms” I’m talking about the PTA moms, the stay-at-home moms, the working moms, the soccer moms…) I had known these families for years. They rallied around us and I am forever grateful and humbled by their compassion, love and offers of help. Those connections helped me see past the pain and humiliation.

One of the things I hear most is that people are impressed with my strength. But the thing is, I was never truly alone. Those connections, those bonds, those relationships that I formed with all of those families have never been broken. Those connections are what keep us intact. Brene Brown writes, “A social wound needs a social balm, and empathy is that balm.” Community is that balm.

I realized from friends who moved away from our neighborhood that what we have is unique. The bonds we formed when we built our houses, stayed at home and nurtured not only our own kids but each others, are solid and unique. That lesson was learned a thousand fold. Those same people who lift you up, who care about you and yours, they see your vulnerability and love you for your weaknesses and your strengths. That feeling of community and God’s grace is truly a blessing.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes and will continue to make more. We’re human, we all do. But I won’t be shamed by those mistakes. Yes, I’ll feel guilt and I’ll be sorry when and if my actions don’t align with my values. I’ll try to learn from them so I don’t repeat them.

What I’ve also learned is that I can hold what has happened apart from who I am. I can remember the love I once felt for him, be thankful for my beautiful children and forgive myself for not seeing ALL of the red flags and staying through years of abuse. I forgive my 19-year-old self and all of the excuses in the last 20 years. I can also feel compassion toward someone who was clearly hurt at some point before I ever came along and who could ever want to hurt someone so badly to want to “make them pay” for everything that has ever gone wrong in their life.

My girlfriend works for a domestic abuse association. She is the one who encouraged me to write, to tell my story, to help others. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) and 1 in 10 men (10%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner and report a related impact on their functioning. Domestic abuse takes many forms.

Shaming is a way that abusers keep people trapped. Shaming is a way they keep their victims silent. You feel that you have no where else to go, but you do. Once you understand that you are enough, it makes it harder to shame you. “When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.”

I know it’s hard to share. This is painful to write and even more so to publish. There will be people who judge, who will see me as a victim. No one wants to be viewed that way. That’s why you stay silent. You keep that shit shoved in a closet and put a smile on your face. But it’s important to share. To not be silenced or shamed. You are not defined by others choices. Your life is what you make it.

Remember and Know that You Are Enough and when you are ready, Choose Joy.