Ahhh, the holidays. That joyous time of year where we celebrate family, friends and loved ones. But, it’s not quite that simple for Dads who are tackling the holidays alone. We want to celebrate by feasting together, chatting and reminiscing about the past, those that came before us, those that have passed, the memories of times gone by, and pronouncements of the things that lie ahead. We do this in various dorms based on religion, region and family traditions. These things all share one common theme – family.
If you’re anything like me, this family tradition has been forever changed by my divorce and the complexity of scheduling kids mealtimes, visitations, sleepovers, alternating or sharing holiday time, all in an effort to celebrate our traditions, together. All this is further complicated by those who have custody of the kids, which in America is more often than not, the role relegated to Mom by the court system. For decades, women have been given primary custody of the kids without a thought of Dad and the home environment provided by Dad. And, again, more often than not, Mom is still in the marital home, for the benefit of the children, of course. But, this puts Dad’s at an extreme disadvantage, having to find new quarters for he and the kids, and creating memories and traditions there within the brief periods of time that he gets to see his kids.
Despite the grim reality we face as divorced dads during the holidays, we must never forget that we are not alone. Many dads have gone before you. For those facing their first holiday alone, or even for the veterans, we at Guyvorce reached out to the huge fraternity of divorced dads through a variety of social media platforms asking for advice and lessons learned to help others adjust and celebrate the holidays in the split home environment. The feedback was incredible! We all are in this together and the overwhelming response we received is a huge testament to the growing bond between men out there. It made narrowing the list down difficult, but ahead we present the five most popular recommendations for tackling the holidays alone based on the input from dads out there just like you.
Top Five Recommendations for Tackling the Holidays Alone
1. Identify what’s important and make sure to do those when you can.
Every family has certain traditions that go with the holidays. Start your planning effort by identifying those traditions with your family. Don’t hold back at first. Once you get the ideas flowing, just let them out. When you have yours, sit with your kids and let them have at it. They may consider some things as tradition that you never knew, like spending the whole day after Thanksgiving in their pajamas! Once you have these, figure out which are the really important ones, and which were just the basic ideas. Your goal here is to get the list down to something manageable that captures the really meaningful events that define Thanksgiving for your kids and you. With this list, you’ll likely be surprised how few really depend on the actual Thursday. With your kids, you’ll all see that you can capture the meaningful bits of the holidays on another day. Sure, it won’t be the same, but it will be the ‘new normal’ going forward. Set your day and make sure you achieve the truly significant parts of your holidays with your kids!
2. Be there for your kids…24/7/365.
While your work to identify the most important traditions that help you and your kids capture the celebration even on a different day, it still doesn’t replace the actual day. For most of us as grown men, a day is simply a date on the calendar. If our birthday falls on a Tuesday, it makes perfect sense to us to celebrate it on a Friday so we can stay out later and let our heads rest on Saturday. The same logic holds true for Thanksgiving. We will have a much easier time adjusting to having turkey with our kids on a Tuesday or Friday than the kids will. Picture the world from your kids’ eyes. Birthdays and holidays are huge, and the date is significant. A five-year old cannot understand why they would have to wait to celebrate their birthday! While they may have checked the traditions with you, you can’t fix the fact that you aren’t there on the actual day. The best you can do is be available. If they call or text you, make sure you are there for them. No matter how much you worked to do something special before or after the holiday with them, they will want you on that day. You don’t get to choose the time, just be there when they need you.
3. Friends, family, & single guys
You’ve done the best you can to address the holiday needs of your children. Now it is time to think about yourself. You are still going to be the guy alone on Thanksgiving. Doug Stone captured the problem well in his song “This Empty House” when he sang:
“So many years of lovin’ all gone. It’s the first time that I’ve ever felt so alone, this empty house, is really hittin’ home tonight.”
The first holiday alone may not be the best time to stay home alone. There’s a great chance you have friends and family that will open their homes to you. While those are nice, they can also be difficult if those homes have kids running around. Another option is to think back to your single days and what you did back then. Maybe you have some single buds that you can link up with for food, football, and beer. As long as you’ve got your phone, you have your teather to your kids if and when they need you. The main point you need to grasp is that you need a way to celebrate the day as well. Whether you link up with another friend and their family, your own family, or jump back into the singles scene for the day, make sure you take the time to enjoy the day as well.
At first, this top piece of advice offered by other divorced dads out there may seem counterintuitive on to how to celebrate the start of the holiday season. But after some thought, many may find it best to get through the alone periods of the holidays by following this popular suggestion: dive into your job. For many, the alone time is too hard, and the thought of spending time with other families will still tear at an open wound that needs more time to heal. Sometimes the best therapy can come from distraction and pouring your attention into your work. Odds are there won’t be too many distractions at the office while you are there. Think of all the administrative tasks, or items on your wish list for work that you never can find the time to get done during normal working hours. You can take advantage of the holiday time, focus on tasks that will improve your normal time at work, and really make a difference after the holidays. The harder you work at clearing your to-do list, the more distracted you will be and before you know it, the alone time will have passed.
5. Make plans for you
Yes, it is official; you are alone for the holiday. Now read that again with a more positive perspective. You are alone, meaning you have total decision authority about what to do, what times, where, and all the other parts of the holiday. Maybe it is time to throw all caution and adherence to the normal expectations and just go do something you want to do. Forget about the holiday and think about what places, activities, or events you’ve always wished you had done, but never found the time. You can seize this moment and be the master of your time. You could go big, or settle in for a 24 hour gaming and beer marathon. What is important is that it is up to you. Look into cheap weekend getaway deals to the beach, maybe drive to the ski slopes, or find the local activities you’ve wished to do, but it never fit well with your kids’ age. You have the time now, the lines at many events will be short because of the holiday, so go for it! The situation next holiday season, or the one after, may be very different. Focus on today and plan it all about what you want to do.
There’s no sugar coating your time away from the kids and tackling the holidays alone. It sucks. No matter how you work the time with your ex, the deal is tough for everyone. But it is the hand we are dealt and it is up to us to make the best of the game. The famous words of Charles Swindoll ring true as you decide how you will handle the upcoming alone time during the holidays:
“The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.”
Our fraternity of divorced dads is filled with all kinds of men. There are many that choose to dwell in the past and ruminate about how the holidays once were. We can’t fault those members, as we all are guilty at times of the same behavior and certainly understand. But we also have the members who play the trump card we all have; our attitude. These dads are the ones that searched for ways to make today and tomorrow’s holidays bright. They have offered their ideas and we’ve presented the top ones here. As with so many things, the choice of what you do going forward and how you react is, like always, yours to make.
With these ideas in mind, thanks to all the dads out there who responded with their ideas and suggestions based on their own experiences. We are not alone. We at Guyvorce are thankful for the bond that is building between us men as we reach out and help one other through the hard times of divorce. We wish you and your families the best this holiday season and look forward to working with you in the future.