"Happy Holidays!" "Merry Christmas!" "Seasons Greetings!" The cheery phrases hover in the air all around us. You want to create special memories for your children and fill these days with laughter and fun. But...the hardships and bitterness of the past year are still sharp, painful, and clear. You are spent, angry, hurt. How can you give our children a joyful holiday?
The word "holiday" is a contraction of the phrase "holy days". The word "holy" literally means "separate" or "set apart". It is this definition that helps give holidays their importance each year. Holiday are meant to be special. They are days that we use to mark the passage of our lives and as a way to remember what is good and excellent. A time to acknowledge that as time goes by we change, evolve, and grow. As a rule, this is what makes them happy days.
In centuries past, holidays (because they are holy days) generally meant little more than a short break from the hard work of day to day life, church services, and special food. Contrast that to our current time when perfect decorations, lavish gifts, feasts, parades, and family demands threaten to overshadow the importance of these very special days.
How we long for the holidays to have meaning that fills our hearts instead of draining our energy away. Take courage, dear friends: this can be your truth. Even during the hardest time of your life. The holidays can be filled with great memories in spite of your situation.
This week, I will be talking about celebrating the holidays with your children when you are a parent with no partner to share the load. This is a subject I have personal experience with, and I know many of you are experiencing this challenge to holiday joy. No matter why you are spending the holiday as a parent with no partner, the isolation can be overwhelming. In addition, there is the pressure of making the holiday happy for your children.
There are a lot of reasons why people are alone with children during the holidays. Military deployment, separation or divorce, death, or incarceration. Each of these events has personal baggage that goes along with it. Whatever the reason for the absence of a partner, you are probably dealing with anger. You may find yourself feeling more short tempered or more easily driven to angry outbursts. Let's touch on that for a moment.
The root of anger is fear. When you feel anger rising up, ask yourself what you are afraid of. Be honest. Are you afraid of being alone forever? Do you fear that you have been abandoned or rejected? That you are not loved? Are you afraid that you will never rest or be able to relax? That you will always carry this burden alone?
These fears and all the others that are in your heart could easily take over your mind and leave no room for happiness. Refuse to give fear and the anger that grows from it space in your mind. Banish these "all the good is gone forever" thoughts. You will have good times again. You will laugh and love and live in happiness again. What ever you are going through, you are going through it; you don't have to settle in and stay. Your situation does not have you held as a captive, and you are not under its control. Whatever it is will pass.
As you work through your situation, here are some techniques for making sure that the holidays are filled with the memories you and your children would like to have. You can take control of the moments and, by doing that, you are taking control over your life.
Emphasize the faith base of the holiday. The holidays we are celebrating at this time of year have their roots in faith. Now is the perfect time to take a deep look into the faith of your own people. If you were raised without a faith, take time to pray about it. You may not have a firm, personal belief in God, but God has a firm, personal belief in you. The Holy Scriptures are a great place to start discovering the spiritual side of your inner self that you know is there. Visit a nearby faith community as they celebrate this season. Ask to visit with the rabbi or pastor. Meditate and pray.
Seek out community. Holidays are a time for people to come together. Hiding from your friends, family, or your faith community will keep you locked in the fear and anger of being alone. Make arrangements to participate with others as they celebrate. Especially if you "don't feel like it". Take the children and go to a tree lighting in your town. Make hot chocolate and watch classic holiday movies. Celebrating Hannukah? Light the menorah. Put it in the window. Celebrate the miracle of lights with latkes and sufganiyot. Is Christmas a special day for you? Get a nativity scene (at a thrift store if money is tight) and tell your children the story of the birth of Christ. Sing the songs of faith. The holidays are about something far bigger than you. Set yourself aside and be part of the community. No matter how you "feel".
Ask for material help if you need it. If you are struggling to make ends meet and you don't know how you will provide the extra items that make the holiday special, ask for help. If you don't have a faith community or a friend circle, go to your child's school counselor. Pastors, youth leaders, teachers, principals, and other community workers have connections to organizations that help families just like yours get through the holidays. Ask for the help you need. It is available from kind people.
Protect the children from your sorrow. Your children will follow your lead. If you lead them to enjoy the season they will. If you lead them to focus on the absence of another adult in their home, they will look only at the empty chair. Find a way to express that the holidays are joyful no matter what. Hold back the bitter words. Refrain from wallowing on the couch. For the sake of your children, celebrate with happy words and activities. Smile. Celebrate.
Holidays with children and no partner present are very seldom the plot of Hallmark Christmas movies. It is difficult to be alone and responsible for children at any time of the year. During the holidays the burden can feel unbearable. But you can bear it. You can thrive during it. You do this by making positive choices in your attitude, your words, and your actions. When parents make these choices for themselves, they are also making them for their children.
Stay focused on the meaning of the holidays no matter where your partner is or for what reason. The holidays are a powerful reminder that, no matter how we feel, we are never alone. Celebrate. Enjoy. Join in. Sing. Worship. Do it for your children.