I have a close friend whom I’ve known for many years. She is always busy, dressed to the nines. I’m most likely to see her pulling out of her driveway, on her way to another weekend getaway or special event with her handsome husband and a smile on her face. One year, I watched them on successive days of the week go out and keep adding to their front yard Christmas display, until I thought it could be seen from outer space. I thought, “Wow, she’s so lucky to have such a great partner who takes such an interest and is willingly out there participating in these things with her.”
Earlier this year, she announced to me that they were splitting up and described how she was struggling to regain her self-worth after years of put-downs, criticism and infidelity. I was shocked. Their relationship and marriage was very different than even I, as a trained observer of people, thought it was. And their internal struggles were very different than the public face they presented to the world.
This is kind of an analogy for the holiday season. For weeks, we are bombarded with holiday images of people enjoying meals and activities with friends and family; exchanging beautifully wrapped and often expensive gifts; decorating their homes. We are shown constantly that some lucky woman out there somewhere will be the recipient of a fabulously expensive Lexus, complete with a huge red bow, courtesy of her husband.
The message is that everyone is happy and joyous and has an unlimited gift budget. The subtle underlying message is, there is something wrong with you if you aren’t having the same experience.
While some people are actually enjoying the holidays, a larger number, maybe 40%, are thinking:
- I just have to make it through, and I can file for divorce after Christmas
- I’m only here because of my child
- I’d rather be alone
It’s no accident that more people file for divorce January through March than any other time of the year.
But there is nothing unique about not enjoying the holidays. Advertising and people’s perceptions aside, the holidays can be especially tough for those in the divorce process or the newly divorced. For many, it’s a time of painful memories, what if’s, adjusting to new parenting schedules, or financial concerns.
None of these say, “Ho-Ho-Ho.”
While I can’t give you a list of things that will take all of these very real dilemmas away, I can tell you that those things I refer to as “The Overs” will not work. They are: over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending, and over-thinking. That includes checking your ex’s Facebook and lamenting, “Why is he happy when I am not?” or having the world’s largest self-pity party.
For the past 25 years, I have had the privilege of sharing life’s transitions with hundreds of families while trying to secure their financial futures. It has taught me that no one is given all of the puzzle pieces necessary to make a complete beautiful picture at the same time. At various times in their lives, almost everyone is missing a piece that they would consider vital to their happiness. Yet they go on and lead productive lives that enrich the lives of others.
Whatever you’re feeling this holiday, it is valid. Extend kindness to yourself and maximize your chances for a happier holiday by not comparing yourself and your circumstances to others.