Alone For The Holidays — Coping With Shared Time During the Winter Season

Bundled up, smiling mom and child playing outside during the winter

Holidays are one of the most-discussed topics when it comes to co-parenting, and for good reason. For many, holidays that fall within the winter season are equal parts joyous and stressful, offering already busy parents extra projects and errands with a very tight deadline. Families perform these tasks annually because the reward—ecstatic children, togetherness, rejoicing in family—is more than worth it. But if you’re newly separated or divorced, navigating the winter holidays can be a minefield. Used to the routine of seeing their children on each and every holiday, parents’ feelings can quickly turn dreary as they contemplate not being able to split the wishbone with their kid or watch them rip open presents on Christmas morning.

Nevertheless, splitting holidays between co-parents is an undeniable reality for many divorced families. No one expects parents to be euphoric about celebrating separately from their children, and sometimes parents will need to simply acknowledge their feelings and not worry about ways to be released from their funk. But if you're looking for ways to still rejoice in the holidays, even if you're not going to be immediately celebrating them with your kids, here are a few suggestions.

Host A Party

Being apart from your children on a holiday won’t necessarily put you in the mood for celebration. But if you still want to connect with family and friends, hosting a party or even a small cocktail hour can be a great way to surround yourself with the people you love. Many parents may have recently moved due to their separation or divorce and hosting a holiday get-together can also be a great opportunity to introduce family to a new home. Plus, the added preparations of a party can be an effective distraction from glum feelings about being apart from your kids.

Even when hosting isn’t a possibility—perhaps your new home is too small for your multi-generational family or too far for people to comfortably travel to—offering your services to a family member or friend who is hosting can achieve the same goal. Hosts, frequently overwhelmed with the many different facets of throwing a party, will likely welcome an extra pair of hands in cleaning, preparing food, and hanging decorations.

Explore Your City

For many parents, throwing or attending a party will be beyond their abilities and desires. Being surrounded by people, no matter how close you are to them, can sometimes simply be too overwhelming when you’re feeling down. That doesn’t mean that you have to cloister yourself at home, draw the shades, and play It’s A Wonderful Life on repeat as you make your way through all the fancy hot chocolate you’ve successfully hidden from your kids.

Depending on the size of your city, many businesses and tourists attractions may still be open during the holidays. Search online for the holiday schedules for museums, monuments, and other attractions in your area. As a long-time resident of a city, it’s easy to overlook touristy locations, and if you’ve recently moved to a new area after your divorce, you may have found yourself too busy to truly appreciate your new surroundings.

Even if you don’t live in a large city with the population to support businesses staying open during holidays, you can still explore natural areas around your town. Get acquainted with your neighborhood’s parks, lakes, rivers, and other natural attractions. Exploring your town also means that you can share any discoveries with your children at a later time.   

Volunteer In Your Community

If you want to share your time with those in need, volunteering during the holidays can be a great option for parents. Not only will it help you keep busy when your children are with their other parent, volunteering is an activity that can be extended beyond the occasional 4-hour shift during December.

Consider starting a tradition of volunteering bi-weekly or monthly during this year’s holiday season. Some opportunities will also welcome the addition of appropriately-aged children to their volunteer roster, so you also have the option of including your children in the future and building a healthy habit of giving back to the community.

There are many organizations that can help you find volunteer opportunities in your area. Volunteer Match and Idealist are both good places to start, but you can also check listings with your local community or religious organizations.  

Spending time apart from your children during the holidays will be tough. Family and friends can be a great support system for acclimating to the new demands of co-parenting. Surround yourself in the company of those with whom you are close, take a friend out on a mini-staycation and explore your city, or give back to your community by volunteering for a local organization that needs your support. No matter how you end up celebrating this winter, be sure to take care of yourself.