Seven battles every single parent must win – #5 Loneliness

There are few other events which punctuate the sting of divorce more savagely than the holiday season. No matter when the marriage ended be it last month, last year, or in the last decade the force and weight of marital separation rushes back during this time like a tidal wave against the shores of the soul. Feelings of sentimentality are rather easy to shelve for the other eleven months of the year, but during the holiday season when every blurb, commercial, and advertisement speaks to the significance of family it’s almost impossible for divorced parents not to remember what’s now missing and ultimately slide into a stupor of loneliness and longing.

I should know; I’ve fought this battle for almost a decade. This Christmas will mark my eighth as a divorced father and the fourth where I wake up Christmas morning without my children’s faces (8 and 10) as the first things I see. This Christmas they will be with their mother and stepfather while I wake Christmas morning, alone. There will be no pictures or videos, no Christmas morning ritual to follow, no customs to continue. This Tuesday morning will be just like any other, and it’s the knowledge of that reality which makes it all so painful.

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Growing up our family like most had certain holiday customs. Every year my sister and I knew exactly what would happen on Christmas day; we would open our presents – as a family, sit down to a breakfast prepared by my father – as a family, and then spend the remainder of the afternoon with our grandparents – as a family. It was ordinary almost to the point of mundane, but there was a comfort in the expected and from the beginning I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

I keep those childhood memories close, but no sooner have those thoughts started warming my soul then they begin darkening my spirit as I’m reminded that my children will never have a similar chance. They will never have a holiday tradition to reflect upon; in fact they’ll never have the same Christmas morning for two years in a row, in other words they will never have the Christmas memories their father has been blessed with. Instead, when they think back to their childhood Christmases it will be of wondering which parent they would be at and figuring out how mom and dad coaxed Santa Claus into delivering presents a day early to the other’s house.

•♦•

There may be no more tangible expression of the pain of divorce than waking up Christmas morning to the knowledge that your children are celebrating the holiday without you. That as they are rubbing the sleep from their eyes drearily making their way down the stairs to the surprises that await you are missing every minute of it. You are missing out on their reactions, the smile on their faces and the gleam in their eyes. It’s coming to grips with the realization that any memories they are making are being done without you.

Loneliness is a battle every divorced parent will come face to face with eventually. For some the fighting begins even before the divorce is finalized as old routines suddenly disappear and weekends once filled with kids, running here and there, and afternoons in the yard together are replaced by weekends of nothing to do and nights alone on the couch. While for others, much like myself, those feelings only emerge when the partying and the candle burning lose their appeal because we’ve grown tired of using both to cover up the pain.

A funny thing happened however when I arrived at the point where I began suffering this loneliness – I tried desperately to swallow them because I mistakenly took it as a latent desire to have my old life back. I actually thought that because I was lonely I somehow wanted to get back with my ex wife, as strange as that sounds. But what I finally came to understand was that my desire for the past wasn’t the manifestation to reconcile with her, far from it; instead the loneliness was then, as it still is today, a consequence of the annual reminder of what has been lost for my children and I. It serves us as a natural, almost subconscious, coping mechanism.

•♦•

I wish I could say it’s gotten easier in all this time. Sure the feelings aren’t as intense but they find their way to the surface anyhow, especially during the holiday season, and I don’t foresee that going away anytime soon. I’ve learned that the battle with loneliness is arguably the most drawn out and lasting of the seven and  it’s unlikely I will able to defeat it, at least not until my children are able make their own decisions about who, when, and where to spend their time as opposed to it being made for them and forced upon me by a settlement agreement with a judge’s approval.

But during the last eight years I’ve relied upon several steps to help me through those seasons of loneliness and this holiday season in particular.

– As a newly divorced parent choosing to spend the holiday alone is one of the unhealthiest decisions you can make. Without support and companionship to keep your attention and provide a shoulder to cry on the silence that remains gives you the necessary room to contemplate, brood, and eventually wallow in your loneliness. If you’re like I was and there isn’t family close, choose to spend time with friends or even take a holiday getaway. For several years I would take a dive trip the week immediately after Christmas for that very reason.  My goal was to take the focus away from what’s missing and put it towards something to anticipate.

– If you don’t have your kids this Christmas, see if your ex will allow you time with your children before, during, or immediately after Christmas. This year I will get my kids on Christmas Eve for a few hours so we can exchange gifts plus I will stop by to see them at her home on Christmas Day. Next year she will be given the same courtesy. While any temporary change in schedules will not entirely make up for having all your future holidays turned upside down it can go along way to helping make the holidays happy for you and your kids.

– Prepare in advance that these feelings of loneliness will appear. Often the surprise is what makes the feelings all the more intense and painful. If this happens to be your first year as a divorced parent then prepare for a difficult time if for no other reason than the newness in it all. Believing that everything will be fine is a common albeit unhealthy mistake. It’s impossible not to experience loneliness in the vacuum caused by divorce and attempting to ignore or dismiss them only serves to make things that much worse.

But on a final point, take assurance in the knowledge that as time goes on, as you become more accustomed to this new reality –  things do get better. The sage wisdom is true, time does begin to heal all wounds and with enough time the feelings of loneliness, while not disappearing entirely, do soften and the holiday season that today may feel sad and depressing can become joyful once again.

This is the 5th in a series of posts by the same name, to read the others go to Seven Battles.

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15 responses to Seven battles every single parent must win – #5 Loneliness

  1. HI CP, even though I’ve taken a break off blogging, I’m just stopping by to say Happy Holidays to all my blogging friends. Thanks for all the support, comments, visits etc. I hope you have fun with your loved ones and I wish you all the best for 2013.

  2. JT

    Everything is geared toward giving the woman the advantage. She gets all the money, has a stable home, and likely your kids will have a step dad real fast or atleast some new dude blending his kids with yours while you send them money which is just spending money.

    As tough as divorce is, I cannot begin to imagine getting divorced from someone you actually care about. I dont miss my ex one bit but I do not like the fact the kids are just moving forward because they seem to have the family unit in place while I am on the sidelines.

    That does not even count working as a slave and not getting anywhere and if you dont work, you end up in debt because of all the money you owe your wife.

  3. Mandy

    Chopper Papa, I’ve read your blog for a long time, but have never commented. Many times your articles have brought me to tears and made me wish that my daughter had a dad like you. I wish you a peaceful holiday, and a new year filled with joy and happieness.

    JT- Maybe that’s your situation, and I’m sorry for it, but it’s a pretty unfair generalization. My ex disappered for years, as in no visits, no call, no money, no support, and I did it all. He decided to come back, after being COMPLETELY absent.The reason we have a stable home and money is because I’ve worked hard to provide.
    Our child will be with my ex at Christmas because he’s “never had her over Christmas”. NOT because I was unreasonable, but because he disappeared. And as happy as I am for her to finally have both her parents in her life,I”m reeling at being alone at Christmas after having 6 years of waking up and having her with me.
    My daughter hardly knows him, crys and tries to hide over leaving my care for his, refuses to eat or drink while she’s at his house, and seems to be mostly taken care of by my ex’s new partner.
    Life isn’t always fair JT, and that sucks. I hope 2013 will bring you happiness, peace and joy.

  4. Mike

    Thanks for the article CP! I just got divorced a couple months ago and my ex is being very difficult. Not sure if I will even get the hour I was promised on Christmas Day with my 21 month old son…

    All of her manipulations and lies, however are only awakening the brawler inside of me and making want to fight for my son. Thinking about that and reading your articles is serving to bring to light what a father really is.
    –Mike

  5. Charismaga

    Thanks so much for this post. I really needed to read something like this. Although I am fortunate that this year I have my daughter on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, this weekend without her will be very lonely, as will Christmas afternoon. I am also far away from family and it’s just the two of us, and it hurts that we won’t have other family around during our time together. It’s good to hear of others that are going through the same thing and knowing that I’m not alone.

  6. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Thanks Anne, I’ve noticed you have posted nothing recently. Thanks for the holiday wishes and the same to you and your family.

  7. Kyle Bradford – Author

    JT, There are many aspects of divorce. If you’ve read much on here you’ll notice that I was, cheated on, asked for the divorce, and had a man blend with my kids from day one. Now he is there step father.

    Was I bitter? Absolutely. Was I angry? Without question. However, in time, I learned to let all of that go. I’ve written about how I did that.

    And as far as the finances are concerned. I’ve written about that as well. Fathers with the money gripes don’t realize that every time they inflict financial damage on their ex, they also do it to their kids. Divorce is a humbling experience in more ways than one.

  8. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Mandy, that was a very inspiring comment. Thank you for the support and the words of encouragement.

  9. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Mike –

    There’s a time to fight and there’s a time to wait. Only you can make that decision. I would encourage you to not let your emotions lead you into rash decisions. I’ve seen more that one time a man has done just that only to his own detriment in the end.

    Seek wisdom and advice from others. Try, as best you can, to take a broader look that will lighten the emotions. When from the larger view it seems that brawling is the right thing to do then, a man must do what a man must do.

    All the best, thanks for stopping in.

  10. JT

    I certainly dont think my experience is unique and I know time will help but there is nothingworse then having your ex subtley or directly rub her seemingly better life or financial gain from your hard work withoutletting your young kids see how you feel. Of course she has the big family and all my family is dead. Props to you for handling things as I struggle with it.

  11. Rebecca

    There is an alternative – healing things with your ex and spending the holidays together. That is what we do. This year is my kids’ dad’s year for Christmas. I will be going over and spending the morning with them all (new wife and stepkids, and her ex), all watching our families enjoying Christmas together.

  12. Good post! I’m lucky to have quite a lot of family near. My parents moved closer and that’s been awesome. This year was the first in a couple that I was with them on Christmas morning. The crummy thing is that I’m still finding it difficult to get into the holiday spirit and a lot of that has to do with the lack of traditions you mentioned. It’s a difficult thing but I guess all we can do is to focus on giving our kids pleasant memories during the time we do spend with them.

  13. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Rebecca, this was the first year that I have done that. The ex invited the Queen her kids and myself over for breakfast. It was actually enjoyable and potentially the opening of a new tradition.

    However, I can tell you that step can and usually does take time to develop.

    Thanks!

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