Valentine’s Day can be a rough holiday for any single person. But if you’re going through a separation or are freshly divorced, the feelings of loneliness are felt more deeply and loom larger for you on the day that celebrates romantic love and coupledom. You should acknowledge these feelings, but resist the urge to throw yourself a pity party on Valentine’s Day. Instead, consider some more positive options.
Throw a party
Who says Valentine’s Day has to be only for lovers? If you don’t have children (or if they’re with your ex on Valentine’s Day) invite your single friends – who also might be feeling the sting of being alone on Valentine’s Day – and go ahead and get the red or pink balloons and heart decorations if that makes you smile. If that seems a little too festive right now, try a lower key potluck dinner at your home. Whatever you do, stay away from the restaurants that will surely be full of couples reminding you that this year, you’re flying solo.
If you have your children with you on Valentine’s Day, work on a craft together, play games, or bake heart shaped cookies celebrating the love that you share as a family. Watching a favorite family movie with a bowl of popcorn works too.
The link between exercise and mood elevation is undeniable. So lace up your sneakers and hit the gym. Go for a run on the track, or take that new fitness class at your gym that you’ve been meaning to try for weeks. If doing something alone doesn’t appeal to you, then grab a friend or two and go for a walk in the park or hike in the woods. Being outdoors has also been shown to elevate your mood and improve your sense of wellbeing.
Even if you are no longer half of a couple, you are still special. Celebrate your individual self and do something that makes you feel cared for or pampered. Treat yourself to a massage, a pedicure – or a whole day at the spa. Buy yourself that book you’ve been eyeing at the bookstore, or your favorite flowers or chocolates. Be kind to yourself.
Treat someone else
Sometimes the best way to nurture your own soul is to do something kind for someone else. Call your mom or dad and tell them how much you love them. Visit a relative who lives alone and would welcome your company and conversation. Or do something kind for a stranger, like visiting someone at an assisted living center who doesn’t have anyone to share the day with, or volunteering at a soup kitchen. When you take the focus off your problems to care for someone else, it’s a win-win situation.
If, however, you find yourself breaking down at some point on Valentine’s Day, don’t beat yourself up over it. It takes time to process, grieve, and heal after divorce, and days like these aren’t easy. As best as you can, keep your mind off the past and surround yourself with the people who love and support you. Then remind yourself that it is only one day out of the year; you’re going to be okay.
Life after divorce can be a scary and stressful time: “normal” as you have known it is forever changed – for you and your children.
Children of divorced parents often struggle with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or fear. Even if children tend to be more resilient than adults, divorce can inflict painful, emotional wounds that may be felt long after the divorce has been final. So what can you do to help your child emotionally heal after your divorce?
Tend to your needs
We’ve all heard that safety speech the flight attendants give before the plane takes off – the one about what happens when cabin pressure fails. They tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you assist your child, which seems backwards somehow. Shouldn’t we always take care of our kids first? But think about it – you need to make sure you don’t pass out from lack of oxygen so that you can take care of your child. The same holds true when it comes to healing after divorce: the best way for your child to heal is for you to be healthy and strong first – physically and emotionally.
Take care of your body. Eat well, exercise, and rest. A strong body can usually deal with stress better.
Talk to a counselor or therapist to help you work through the emotional issues you’re dealing with. Find a support group that will not only encourage you when things get rough, but also help you acquire some coping skills to get through the tough times ahead.
Create a support system of family members, friends and trusted babysitters that will allow you to take a break when needed. Taking time for yourself to work through emotional issues or simply to rejuvenate will make you a stronger parent.
Protect your child’s innocence
No matter what happened between you and your former spouse, don’t try to make your child see your point of view or try to justify the divorce to him; children rarely will be convinced that the divorce was “for the best,” no matter how necessary it may have been.
Don’t put your child in the middle of disputes between you and your former spouse by using him to relay information. Your child should always be shielded from family disputes or conversations about visitation schedules, finances, or other difficult issues.
When you need a shoulder to cry on – or someone to vent to – lean on family members or friends, not your child. Your child needs to know that you are there to take care of him, not vice versa. This will give him a greater sense of security and relieves him from worrying about you.
Open up communication
The first thing you must communicate to your child is that she had nothing to do with the divorce. And reassure her that she is loved and wanted by both parents.
Share your feelings about the divorce with your child. When you name the feelings you have about the divorce or the sadness you feel because the family is no longer intact, you create a safe place for her to share her feelings about the divorce as well.
Child and family therapist Leslie Petruk, says, “By sharing your feelings in an appropriate way, you are modeling for your child what you hope they will be comfortable in doing with you. Letting them know it’s understandable if they are feeling angry, sad, or scared may help them feel safe enough to talk to you about what they are thinking and feeling.”
Invite your child to ask questions to help reduce her anxiety and fear of the unknown. Keep in mind that children process things at a different pace than adults, so her questions may not come out all at once.
Healing after divorce can be a long process, but most children can find healing with time, patience, and loving support. If your child has great difficulty adjusting, however, consult a mental health professional for help.