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Article by: Debra Doak

We’re about to head into the season where, according to Instagram, every family is wearing matching pajamas, holding hands, singing in 6-part harmony and making Pinterest-worthy cookies.

It kind of makes me want to barf. Because the truth is, the holidays and big family occasions are a mixed bag even if you aren’t going through a divorce. Most people have a relative or two that make family gatherings a crapshoot at best. Family feuds, a grandpa that tells racist jokes, a sister-in-law that drinks way too much wine, or a cousin that insists on discussing politics at the table. That means lots of people are biting their tongues and gritting their teeth just trying to make it through. Check out this post for more about getting through the holidays with your sanity intact.

And, did you know that January is the #1 month for divorce filings? That means there are an awful lot of people out there playing “happy family” that have no intention of staying together once January 1st hits. And there are even more people that are going through a divorce or spending their first holiday apart. So, contrary to what you see on social media, this is one of the hardest, loneliest times for a whole bunch of people.


5 Hacks to Survive the Holidays


We keep hearing that the holidays are supposed to be the hap-happiest time of the year. But what if things in your life are a complete sh*tshow and everything is upside down? How do you survive the holidays when you’re not speaking to your spouse, fighting over a divorce agreement, sharing kids for the first time or missing old traditions? Nothing can turn back the clock and make things the way they used to be, but these 5 tips can help you survive the holidays even when the ground underneath you is shifting.



CARB Loading

And no, I don’t mean load up on pasta, but I do mean load up on self-care. Although, hey, if you want a big bowl of fettuccine alfredo with garlic bread, I say get in your pajamas, order up some Door Dash or Uber Eats and go for it. Extreme self-care is a must before, during and after divorce and especially if you’re dealing with divorce during the holidays. Even if you usually practice a good amount of self-care, this is the time to double down on your efforts.

I use CARB as an acronym for 4 things you can do during the crazy, stressful holiday time to stay sane and keep your cool.

C = spend time with Caring friends and family

A = participate in enjoyable Activities

R = get some extra Rest and Relaxation

B = feed your Body healthy food

If you’ll CARB load leading up to and during the holiday season, just like serious athletes, you’ll have more energy and endurance for the journey ahead. By making sure your fuel tank is full, you can show up for your kids, the people you love, and discover the pockets of joy that still exist.

Stop Comparing

Yes, other families are wearing matching pajamas and sending out those photo Christmas cards. So what? First of all, don’t let that stuff fool you into thinking that family is any happier than you are. You’d be surprised to know what goes on in those homes. Pictures don’t tell the truth. And second, matching pajamas and photo cards do not mean those people are any closer or love each other any more than you love and are loved by your family and friends.

You may have heard the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote “Comparison is the thief of joy”. It’s become so iconic because it’s true. Someone else’s holiday situation or circumstances may look different than yours, but that doesn’t make it better. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa may be changing for you and your family this year and for years to come – try to let it be different and enjoy it for what it is. Suffering happens when we struggle against change rather than let it happen. The definition of the word “joy” is great pleasure or happiness – and you can possess that no matter what other people are doing.

Saying “No” is Self-Care

When life gets hard, you need more fuel. Dealing with your ex, people giving you advice about your marriage or divorce, dealing with legal proceedings and helping your kids adjust to living in two homes is more than enough for anyone. Add the stress of the holidays on top of that and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a meltdown. If you want to make it through this holiday season, be selfish about what you need for yourself.

This is the time to put on your own oxygen mask. One of the simplest ways to create more space for yourself is to start saying “no”. Say no to holiday events you don’t want to go to. Say no to getting out all 67 pieces of the antique winter village. Say no to overspending on gifts you can’t afford. Say no to cooking or baking for the holiday party at school, church or temple. Say no to going to your mother-in-law’s. Say no to switching parenting time if you don’t want to. If this year is hard for you, give yourself permission to say no. Marie Kondo your holidays and eliminate anything that doesn’t spark joy.

New Traditions

When your family changes, some beloved family traditions must change too. For example, if the kids are spending a holiday with their other parent, your day or evening could look very different than you’re used to. You could sit home, pout and have a holiday pity party for yourself but I don’t recommend it. Plan ahead to ensure that you can spend that time in the company of people who matter. Invite single or family-less friends over for dinner and game night. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Visit at a nursing home.

And be creative when it comes to new traditions with your children. If they aren’t with you for Christmas morning, use that time to set up a scavenger hunt for their gifts when they get home. Or start a new tradition of bagel bites or mac and cheese in bed while you watch a movie. Ask your kids what they think would be fun. Check out this post where I share a story of how one client re-invented Christmas.

Understand It’s Temporary

It’s different. You’re grieving, angry, lonely, sad, confused. If you’re in the middle of a divorce or it’s the first holiday season since the divorce was final, expect it to be a little bumpy. What was is gone and yet the new isn’t fully formed yet. So this year you’re standing in the gap, but it isn’t permanent.

“Everything passes. Joy. Pain. The moment of triumph; the sigh of despair. Nothing lasts forever – not even this.” ― Paul Stewart

It takes time to get all the pieces of your life 2.0 in place and incorporated. I’ll bet you’ve had to adjust to other situations in the past that felt awkward or uncomfortable at first – new home, new job, out of state move, dietary or health changes. And yet, notice that over time, what seemed difficult eventually became normal. This holiday season is one of those situations and it too will pass. As you fall into a rhythm of co-parenting and continue on your recovery journey, your new life will begin to take shape and future holiday seasons will feel more normal.




Debra Doak, CDC Certified Divorce Coach®, CDFA, Mediator

I work with clients to help them navigate this hard stuff with confidence and clarity. Because I have both personal experience and professional training, I’ll guide and support you to turn this challenge into an opportunity to change your life for the better. New skills, new confidence, and a fresh perspective on the future are just a few of the benefits of working with me.

I work with clients in all phases of the divorce process and specialize in helping women who have been stay-at-home moms go from being dependent and afraid to confident and self-sufficient. I also have expertise in the area of betrayal trauma recovery and assist clients in focusing on safety and self-care while they decide if their marriage is repairable.


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