The question: I divorced my wife earlier this year. We had been married nine years and have two young children, but it just wasn't working out. We agreed she gets to have the children this Christmas. But there's honestly nothing I loved more than Christmas morning with my children. I'm not looking forward to Dec. 25 any more. I don't know how to get over missing them – and how can I even start a new tradition if I'm alone?
The answer: A divorce, particularly when children are involved, can be one of the hardest life experiences to deal with. Certain times of the years (holidays, birthdays) amplify the pain that comes along with not having your once-intact family configuration.
Your goal should not be to get over missing them (as that is a normal reaction from a loving parent) but rather to find a "new normal." This won't happen immediately, and having that expectation will only make the situation harder. So first: Accept that this will be a difficult year, and you will likely feel sad and miss your kids – but it will get better with time (it may sound clichéd, but time does always heal).
Missing your kids – and the sadness and loneliness that comes along with that – is not an emotion to shove away. Our emotions are a signal to our brain and body that we are experiencing something that impacts an important part of our life and what we value. Those emotions validate that how much your kids mean to you, how much family means to you, and that you wish the situation to be different. All too often we want to shove away our negative emotional states. But that rarely turns out well, as emotions often rear their heads later on. So allow yourself – give yourself permission – to experience the sadness this year.
Our emotions also provide us with the motivation to take some kind of action, to do something differently. You said that you and your wife agreed that she gets to have the children this Christmas. Could you have an honest conversation with her about how you are feeling? Let her know that your intent is not to renege on your agreement, but you didn't realize how sad you'd feel about not seeing the kids this year. Ask her if there is some compromise the two of you could come to: Maybe you could have some time with them in the afternoon or evening? Let her know that you will be flexible with her time with them when it comes to next Christmas.
If this is unacceptable to her for whatever reason, perhaps you could find a way to speak to them by phone or Skype during the day? Or, choose another day to be your family Christmas day – Dec. 25 is just an arbitrary day, after all. For example, if the kids are with you on Boxing Day, you could celebrate Christmas that date instead.
I would encourage you to be proactive in planning how you will spend your time on Christmas. You may have a natural urge to withdraw and isolate yourself, but that will just amplify your low mood. Even though you may not feel like it at all, there is tremendous value in being around people you love and care about to help you through this first Christmas. At the very least, make plans with other family and friends. You'll feel much better for it.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra .
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