It's A Wonderful Life?

It’s A Wonderful Life?

Is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year? For many of us solo parents, it’s often one of the hardest times of the year. When we first got married, we imagined a beautiful life, an ideal marriage, and perfect holidays. And after our kids were born, Christmastime took on a whole new magical meaning. But now, all of that’s behind us and life probably looks very different.

When we get into the holidays, we can be consumed with questions of “what if.” What if I could have kept the marriage together? What if I had a partner now? Sometimes we can even romanticize the memories of what we used to have. If we lost a spouse to death, those romanticized memories are accurate, and we are left with this hole in our lives. For those of us who are divorced, even though most of us are happy to be out of the toxic situations we were in, the Christmas season brings all of those hopes and dreams we used to have back to the surface.

For all of us, when we start seeing the Christmas ads and hearing the Christmas music, some of those memories pop up and bring a certain ache inside. It even presents us with a longing for an idealized version of what we had before . . . and the fear that we’ll never have those moments again. We do our best to create the magic of Christmas for our kids, but for many of us, we’re faking it.

So, it begs the question . . . what is so wonderful about life at Christmas?

Idealizing Christmas

The season of Christmas has a way of amplifying whatever emotions you’re feeling, whether that’s grief or joy. It even has a way of keeping you stuck in your old memories (whether they are good or painful).

For Solo Parent Elizabeth, The holidays can be rough. One Christmas morning, her ex told her that he didn’t want to be married to her anymore. “Honestly, if I choose to, I could focus on that. I could stick with that (memory) and let it come up every year saying, ‘Oh this is the day he told me he didn’t want to be married anymore.’ But that’s not the case. I do think there’s still times I romanticize what was and what could have been.” It’s especially hard for her thinking about how her son doesn’t get to have the same kind of unified family Christmases she experienced growing up. “He doesn’t get that. It just brings up a lot of pain. Not of what I’m missing out on but what he’s missing out on. It’s just a deep dark hole of pain.”

For Solo Parent Marissa, the memories carry a lot of pain . . . even though she wants to move toward promise. “The premise of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is kind of about gratitude—being grateful for where you are. But it can be hard. If I had shown a glimpse of my Christmas future, seeing the Christmases I have now—it stings a little bit. Because there’s a part of me that wants to go back to when my children were 4 and 6—well before their dad died, and well before things started getting so complicated and difficult in our relationship. And just have that innocence back.” Marissa is remarried now but still struggles with trying to make the most of these present memories while carrying the heartache from Christmases past. “There was a day that was the perfect Christmas. And I’ve experienced it. And I want my kids to be able to have that. How do you get there and get control over those emotions to just live in the moment and really appreciate what’s there when sometimes the ‘wonderful life’ part seems to be a little evasive?”

For many of us, there may be things in life that you’re able to truly say, “It’s a wonderful life.” But oftentimes, there can be an underlying ache that exists in this season as well. That ache is coupled with regret, idealizing those memories from the past, and maybe even wishing you would’ve done something different.

Four Ways to Find Wholeness This Christmas

When we push aside our grief, it has a way of coming back even stronger—often at the most inopportune times. Moving into the holidays, clinging to the idea that “it’s a wonderful life” isn’t a reality for everyone, especially when you’re in the thick of grief. So how can we hold our gratitude and our grief at the same time and cherish the new memories we have the opportunity to make?

We’ve come up with four different ways to help you live in the balance and find a sense of wholeness this Christmas:

  1. Reframe your thoughts.

In the same month Marissa’s husband died, her son came to her and said, “It’s not fair. Because you still have a dad and I don’t.” Marissa could take that perspective and agree with him at the fact that he’s only eight years old and his dad died. Or she could say, “He’s so lucky he got his dad for eight years.” Reframing the conversation in your head takes those thoughts captive and twists them toward the positive while allowing yourself to grieve and cherish your memories at the same time. You’re allowed to miss what you had and love what you have now at the same exact time.

  1. Remember what you’ve escaped (if you’re divorced).

We can all be guilty of romanticizing our memories, even if they were bad. Elizabeth shared that she often remembers things very differently than what was actually happening in those moments. “I can get in my rose-colored glasses of eternal optimism. But I have learned to be very realistic in that. Not remembering things in a bad way to keep myself down or hold onto resentment for my ex. It’s more about just living in the reality of what was. If we’re sitting there ruminating on all these memories, our brains can do crazy things and will keep us stuck in all the romantic things versus seeing what actually is and not allowing us to remember what we escaped.”
That’s why it’s so important to confront the old romanticized memories with accurate memories of what actually happened and even what you escaped. There’s a reason you’re not with that person anymore.

It can be very confusing. Come to a Solo Parent group and share a story and ask, “Am I crazy for remembering this fondly?” Ask people who are in your life face to face or come to one of our groups. They’ll help you see these memories in a different way.

  1. Focus on the advantages of being solo. 

It’s important to remind ourselves that there’s advantages to being solo. Some advantages might be the fact that you get to call the shots. Having more control over the schedule, the traditions, and even the gifts you want to purchase for your kids is freeing. Instead of having to get on the same page about every detail, you’re able to make those decisions and put them into action.

It’s okay to try and find the benefits and the upside of what you’re going through right now. Not only that, but doing so helps you get back to that gratitude to be able to say (and mean) that “it’s a wonderful life.”  

  1. Hope looks different than we expect. 

Expecting something and hoping for something more than reality isn’t a new thing. In fact, when Jesus came, the people of Israel were expecting someone completely different. When they talked about the Messiah, they wanted someone that could overthrow political status so they could be victors over their land. But the King of the Universe shows up as a baby in a manger. Jesus came and we expected him to be mighty and victorious, giving us everything we’ve always wanted. But instead of changing the social economic issues, He came to love and live amongst us. The hope in Jesus looked far different than what people were expecting.  And the same is true for your season right now.

When we surrender our hope, we don’t have to worry about what life should look like.  God has our best in mind and wants what’s best for us. Surrendered hope is having the faith to be open handed and say, “This is what I hope it would look like, but if it doesn’t, I know you’re going to give me everything I need and more to live, grow, and be who you want me to be.”

We hope you’re able to use these four tools to help you reframe your thoughts, remember the reality of your memories, count your blessings, and even surrender your hope to the Lord. When you’re able to do that, we truly believe that gratitude will fill your heart this Christmas season.

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