On Your Mind: First Christmas after the divorce

on your mind

Dear Tom,

Apparently I didn’t get the memo about this being “the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m a mess right now. This is the first Christmas since my divorce and I’m sad, angry and worried all at the same time. I feel like I’ve let my kids down, and I’m so worried that they’re going to have a better time at their dad’s new house, which he shares with a new girlfriend. I hate the fact that I have to miss out on some holiday time with them and be forced to share them with the new woman in my husband’s life. How can I get past this in time to enjoy the holiday with my kids? I don’t want to feel this bitter, but I do.

Dear Mom,

Christmas is supposed to be merry and a time for celebrating with family and friends, but in some cases, that is more perception than reality, especially for the first Christmas after a divorce. What you’re feeling and experiencing is very common given your circumstances – i.e. new territory with many conflicting thoughts and negative emotions. While your emotions and concerns are understandable, the key is to focus on your children’s enjoyment of the season, and find other outlets for the negative thoughts and emotions.

One suggestion is to do things that will distract attention away from what you and your children no longer have and build new traditions that are as joyful and fun as the old ones. Here are some tips:

Reach out to family and friends for support. One helpful way to distract from negative emotions and traditions of years past is to have other people around. This could include your friends, children’s friends or family members. Keep close to others especially when your children are with your ex-spouse. Plan some activities that you’re looking forward to during that time.

Show your children you understand their feelings and worries: Direct statements such as “I know this Christmas is going to be different than it has been in the past.” OR “You may feel sad sometimes and maybe a little angry and worried too.” Then, offer encouraging words: “You know, we know how to have a good time together at Christmas. We can enjoy each other, and we can do some fun things not just on Christmas day, but during the school vacation. So, let’s talk about some things we can do together.”

Make new family traditions. Determine with your children what you want to do with the time you have together that may be a departure from standard things of years past. Remember – nothing is off limits – this is a new time, so new activities and ideas are welcome. Asking them what they want to do can lead to a natural discussion of what they’re thinking and feeling. If they express sadness or disappointment, acknowledge those feelings, but also talk about the new things and ideas you want to do together.

Participate in some form of charity work or activity that means doing something for those less fortunate. Get your children’s ideas or have them be involved in some way. Also, there may be some activity that you want to do on your own or with your friends when your children are with your ex-spouse.

Work with your ex-spouse in a co-operative manner. This is probably the hardest thing to do – but again mom, keeping your children’s interests first and foremost is most important. Do NOT talk about your negative feelings about your ex-spouse in front of your kids. Leave those thoughts and feelings about your ex-spouse to a trusted friend, relative or counselor.

Mom – you also note that you feel like you let your kids down and you’re worried. Please don’t beat yourself up with guilt and worry. It’s normal to feel some loss or sadness about this first Christmas, but where there is loss and worry, there’s also a grand opportunity for something new. Embrace the new, and focus on fun and positive activities and things for yourself and your children. It will take extra effort, but you can start something new this year that will last for years to come. Best wishes to you and your children.


Tom Petrizzo serves as CEO of Ozark Guidance and has degrees in social work and law. You can reach Ozark Guidance at 479-750-2020.  Tom has spent the last 20 years managing non-profit centers in Texas, Kansas, Colorado and Arkansas. He has also served as adjunct faculty at the social work graduate program at three large universities. He’s married to Teri Classick, a licensed clinical social worker, and they have two daughters. When he’s not at work, Tom likes to jog, bike ride, read and he even belted out the National Anthem lately at a Northwest Arkansas Naturals Game!

Tom would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback. Tom will be back each month to answer another woman’s question.

Disclaimer:  This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.