Every holiday, I have this idea in my head of how everything should look and be. Do you ever do that? The problem is, as a single and divorced mom of grown children, the holidays will always be hard and probably never look like what’s in my head.
However, it does not mean special days cannot be good. But, let’s be honest for a moment, they are hard. No matter what the reason is for divorce, it shatters the family. It causes fragmentation. Children are left running between mom and dad. Even when parents behave badly, children still want to see both of them. They rarely stop wanting a relationship, affirmation and approval from both mom and dad.
The sting of divorce can surface repeatedly. It has been seven years since my divorce was final. So I should be a pro at the holidays, right? Wrong. You never get used to losing time with your children. You never get used to losing the nuclear family and extended family lost after divorce. You heal, move forward and try to find healthy ways to cope and handle the change. However, the sting of it seems to always remain. (This does not mean that if you are remarried that you don’t love your current spouse and/or are not happy with him or her. It just means that your past contains loss and grief.)
Widows and widowers all receive understanding from others when they are grieving. However, divorcees are viewed sometimes a bit differently-- as if divorce is not as bad, or because you filed or “chose to divorce,” you should be happy, or at least adjusted. Let me speak to that for a moment.
In a divorce, there is the leaver and the left. The leaver however, is not always the one who first chooses to leave the marriage or family. Sometimes, a person has to file for divorce due to a situation that is completely out of their control, (abuse, addiction, continuing adultery etc). So just because someone files, does not mean that are happy about it or that they are the leaver. Out of respect for their children, and their relationship with the other parent, some parents choose to keep these reasons private.
So how do you get through the holidays when other families are all together and you are alone? What do you do when you have made plans and the ex does something to hurt the kids or interfere? What do you do when you are concerned about your child’s safety with your ex, or the new person they have in their life? What happens when older children are bullied, coerced or manipulated by the ex?
First, recognize that divorce is hard. It is especially hard on children. They feel torn and pulled like rag dolls. Despite how unfair things might be, you do not want to add to their pain. So measure your words and reactions carefully. Remember your ex’s demands on the children for extra time, is not your child’s fault. For many children, they will hurt the parent they feel the safest with in order to win the approval of the parent they feel most insecure relating too.
With older children, express your feelings with statements like, “I feel hurt” or “I feel sad when you change plans at the last minute.” Never place blame, rather express how you feel.
Second, remember, “This too, shall pass.” Talk to a counselor or good friend. Let them breathe encouragement into you. Pray with them and ask them to pray for you. Be real with them so that you feel heard.
Third, if your children are young and you are concerned about their safety, seek the advice of a good attorney and a counselor. Do all you can to protect them and retain sole custody. Adult children are capable of making their own decisions. However, be there for them. Express your feelings and/or concerns.
Fourth, set up reasonable boundaries and ask adult children to remember that you desire that if possible, they adhere to the schedule set in place. At the end of the day, if they decide to change plans at the last minute, it is out of your control. Having a “melt-down” or getting angry will only stress the time you do have, making things awkward. So pray, pray, and pray some more. Ask God to give you the right words to speak. Ask Him to fill the emptiness and disappointment you feel. Seek out other family members and friends to spend time with if you find yourself alone.
Fifth, remember that no matter how much we feel we deserve happiness and our children deserve happiness, God does not promise us happiness here on earth. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us that God wants us all to be happy. While God doesn’t promise us or our children happiness, HE does care and HE does want to be the source of our joy and peace.
Remember what John 10:10 says, 'The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'
Last of all, remember that the thief comes to steal your joy, kill your plans and destroy your relationships. Don’t let him. Remember the true meaning of the holiday. As one of my sweet friends reminded me, “The reality of Christmas is not the Hallmark card of the perfect family gathering. It is the scared, little, virgin girl, giving painful birth, in the stinky barn, surrounded by cow manure and cud, bleeding everywhere, cold, no doctors, no pain killers, ....just that Beautiful baby… Born to die.” Vicki Frucci
The fears we face with and for our children, could be similar to the fear Mary experienced for her child, the baby Jesus. Therefore, we need to TRUST God to handle those things we can't and remember that our perspective can become limited when we are hurting. Therefore, take your eyes off your hurt and pain and put them back on Christ and eternity. Love on your children when you have them and pray for them when you don't.