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Dear Chump Lady, How do I make it through the holidays?

Dear Chump Lady,

I am six months out from separation. Facing holidays alone with three grade school age boys. Friends all happily married (for the most part). Family all happily married.

I need any and all survival tips. The closer it gets to Christmas, the more easily I cry. I can’t stand to open Christmas cards from friends because their beautiful intact families reminds me of my broken family thanks to my cheating husband.

Offers of help and generous gifts from neighbors and congregation members just make me feel inadequate as a mom. I don’t want to be known as “the single mom” of the neighborhood, but I will be.

Divorce is amicable so far, which is a huge blessing; but about 45 days away from being able to be finalized.

All of it is still surreal. When I calculated today that I had asked him to move out exactly six months ago, I couldn’t believe that much time has past. It feels like I have been treading water without help for only a month or two.

It is a relief to not have the tension and day to day interactions with STBX. However, I am mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. All of you who have been single parents know that this is one tough gig! And relief every other weekend isn’t even close to enough time to catch up on everything that falls by the wayside when you are doing it alone.

I don’t know if everything is compounded because of Christmas. Or if my new reality is just settling in and I am scared to death to raise my sons without a full-time support system.

I figured this was the best place to go for ideas on how to make it through the next three weeks and make it as good a holiday season as possible!

Next year has to be better, right?!


Dear LimboLand,

Some holidays suck. When things suck — let them suck. You’ve been separated for 6 months. Your divorce isn’t finalized. You’re trying to get used to your new reality during a season of oppressive bonhomie. Who can blame you for occasional fits of weepiness? Even the sturdiest of us reel at the disconnect between our drab, ordinary lives and the manic imperative to be fabulous at the holidays. What? You don’t have your presents wrapped in artisan, wood-block print paper made by free-range lepers in India? You didn’t translate those Christmas cookie recipes from the original German? Didn’t you get invited to that party? You know, the one with the live nativity outside and the imported camels? No? Oh. Sorry.

I guess only the Intact, Happy, Married people were invited.

Please stop comparing yourself. Not every intact family is beautiful. Many of them are flaming cauldrons of dysfunction. And yes, some are happy. Be happy for them. The world needs all the sane, happy people it can get. Your problem is you need to expand your notion of “beautiful” and “intact.” You have custody of three boys. You’re at the helm. That’s an intact family. You’re just missing a fucktard, which is not missing much.

Yes, single parenting is hard work. But single parenting is not LESS THAN. It doesn’t mean you’re defective. Frankly, I found single parenting much, much easier than parenting in a bad marriage. In my first marriage, I paid the mortgage, all my own bills, my car, my son’s childcare, pre-school. I had a surly husband who didn’t much want to hang out with me, and the full weight of his untreated mental illness. I realized I was already a single parent. I didn’t have a fully invested partner. Having him out of the house was liberating and, hey, at least it was honest.

You were married to a cheater. No matter how many soccer games he attended, or bills he paid, that man was not a fully invested partner, in your marriage or in your family life. He directed his resources at fucking around on you. You’re mourning what you thought you had, how you enjoyed being perceived, not who he really was.

You don’t want to be known as the single mom? You ARE a single mom. Wear it as a badge of honor. You’re freaking HEROIC. You’re raising three boys on your own. This is your chance to raise good men with YOUR values. Did you really want to stay “intact” with that man and model to your sons that husbands and fathers cheat? And women must eat that shit sandwich and let the man enjoy his side-dish fuck entitlement?

Or do you want them to know that women are strong and life has deal breakers — and if you fuck with someone’s dignity and betray them, you will find your ass divorced?

Divorce is not failure. Cheating is failure. The shame of infidelity is not your shame to wear. I realize this is not how you expected your life to turn out, but it’s the rare person whose life turns out how they expected. And those people are dull and risk adverse. Intact can be enviable, it can also be boring as hell. And smug.

LimboLand, trust that in time you will find your sea legs on this parenting thing and you will have better days ahead, and yes, even happy holidays. But right now, you’re in crisis. Your world just got turned on its head. You are blessed that you are surrounded by kind people who want to help you. Accept the help. You know how you keep good people in your life? You let them help you. Don’t shoo them away. Be gracious, accept their kindness, and do a good turn for them later, when you’re able.

Reciprocity is what makes a relationship healthy. That means you don’t always get to be the giver. It means you also have to accept taking — graciously. That can be humbling for the more control freaky of us chumps. Makes us feel vulnerable. If you’ve been with a narcissist, you’re expecting that score card. Shit, I’m going to owe you and this is not going to be pretty. 

No. Some people are actually nice. Take the fucking casserole. Say yes to the babysitting. ENCOURAGE these people. Keep them close and do not reject them because you fear being pitied. That’s about you and you internalizing Single Mother is Less Than. They don’t see you that way. They see you as a lovely person who is in crisis and alone for the holidays, who could use some bolstering.

I could not have done single parenting without a lot of help. I had a dear friend who had my son for sleepovers every time I had to travel for work, or even sometimes when I had a date. And every chance I got, I reciprocated. I took her sons. Nearly every weekend I had a motley assortment of boys at my house. I looked for opportunities to do for my friends because I KNEW I was going to need their help too.

Being a single parent can open up your world in new ways, and deepen friendships. “Intact” families can be very isolating. As you build this new life, build a tribe. Lots of people are cribbing it together, doing this parenting stuff by the seat of their pants, even the married ones. Make some more friends.

But for now, just get through the holidays. Focus on your kids, making their Christmas bright. Create some new traditions (cookies for breakfast!) Relax. Please don’t spend those precious kid-free weekends doing chores. Enjoy some self-care. Watch a movie. Have coffee with a friend. Blob in your pajamas. You deserve it.

This new stage of life isn’t a punishment, it’s a gift. I know it doesn’t feel that way now — but you’ll get there. I promise.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at Read more about submission guidelines.
  • Limbo, cut yourself some slack. You are in hell right now. Your divorce isn’t even final, it’s only been six months since marriage fell apart, and the holidays are brutal that first year. One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill, who said: “When you are going through hell, keep going.”

    That’s what you need to do. Just keep going. There is no shame in being a single parent, they are everywhere. You are better off than being married to a cheating, disordered scumbag. I doubt your friends or neighbors pity you. I think they want to help, and you should let them help you whenever possible. One day you will return the favor.

    As for this Christmas, expect that it’s going to be hard, because it is. This is the Christmas you’ll look back on years from now when you realize just how far you’ve come. But this year, focus on your boys. Make something special for breakfast. Enjoy watching them open their gifts. With three boys, I’d imagine the energy and hijinks are pretty high in your household Christmas morning anyway. After gifts, let them play awhile, then do something together. Go to a movie, or watch one at home. Go sledding if it snows in your area, or go out to look at Christmas lights on the houses. I recommend buying yourself a gift, wrapping it, and having it under the tree waiting for you. Doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, just something that pleases you.

    Hang in there. The holidays will pass. The separation and then the divorce will pass. This whole nightmare will pass. One day, you’ll reach the state of meh, probably on a Tuesday. And you’ll look around and realize that you are out of hell, that life is looking pretty good and that things really do get better and better once you leave a cheater and gain a life.

  • This is my second Xmas since separating, and it is much much easier. I have two boys, also grade school aged. Hugs to you.

    Please accept the help and kindness of others. It took me a long time to understand this, but it’s not about them pitying you. By accepting now, you are providing them the wonderful opportunity to feel the deep joy that only comes from giving. It’s your turn to “take” now. If you are anything like most chumps I’ve met, we’ve spent years being givers, and not just in our marriages. And we will give back again, once we rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of our former lives. So please, accept now. Enjoy the love and attention. Let your boys see how loved and cared for they are by a broad community, their “tribe”.

    And again, I promise you, it gets much easier in time.

    • 2nd one for me too. Me and my two dogs are doing just fine too.

      Hell? Hell would be going back into a one-sided dysfunctional relationship with a cheater.

      I am going to do something I rarely do and use the f-word a lot.

      CL’s comment: You have custody of three boys. You’re at the helm. That’s an intact family. You’re just missing a fucktard, which is not missing much.

      This is the reality (and for me, just substitute two dogs for three boys). Comparison can be nasty. Comparing what you wanted (or mistakenly thought you had or deluded yourself into believing) to what you think others might have doesn’t do anybody any good. The reality is that having a fucktard around won’t give you what you wanted either, and it would be a huge step backward. Life minus a fucktard is definitely progress.

      When you’re focused on what you imagine you want all the time, you can’t get off the treadmill and appreciate what you have, IMO. Life minus a fucktard + 3 boys + a supportive community is a lot to appreciate. The dream of a happy intact, nuclear family was a mirage for all of us married to fucktards 🙂

  • If it helps you any, I have a neighbor that lives in our quiet, little, oppressive, suburban cul de sac and she kicked her loser to the curb when her 3 boys were in grade school. She fought like hell to keep the house and she raised those 3 boys. They are all in college. They are all wonderful young men. I am in awe of her.

    Through the years all the neighbors pitched in and helped her with babysitting, home repair, and yard work. She has remodeled her home, jogs 3 miles every morning, and looks 30 at age 50. …

    Go ahead a be a little freaked out this Christmas but remember my story next year ….. It isn’t possible to live in a more “perfect” community than I do. Everyone is perfect and everyone is happily married. And every yard has a live nativity ( kidding on the last one). The point being… She not only survived, she thrived and her boys ( men now) show it!!

      • I have told her 🙂

        She let me sneak off to her backyard ( years ago) and smoke a cigarette and have a shot of whiskey one Thanksgiving when I was hosting fucktard’s whole family … She probably saved their lives…. And I’m not wearing an orange jumpsuit 🙂

        I have loved her ever since 🙂

  • Hi Limbo, Everything CL and GIO wrote is true. Right now, it just doesn’t feel like you’ll ever get there, but you will. This year is going to be a challenge. I don’t know how old your boys are, but you might let them know that you want this holiday to be a warm, love filled time in your household and that it is going to feel a bit different. Maybe you’ll do some things differently; ask them what they love most about Christmas and try to incorporate some of that. I used to tell myself that I had to focus on the fact that I had become the matriarch. Without another parent present, I was all that they had. So even if it didn’t feel comfortable, I imagined what that woman would be like, the leader of the clan as it were. And then I’d try to act like that person. And I’ve become that person. Trust yourself. You already made one huge, strong and positive step by letting your boys know that treating a marriage, and by association a family, as disposable is unacceptable.

  • LimboLand,

    You wrote a touching, beautiful note about how it feels to be where you are. Clearly, you are quite the capable woman! ChumpLady correctly bolded the words “Accept the help”. Yes, when we are in crisis, as you still are, we don’t have the luxury of stoicism and American-brand independence. You need the community around you that wants to help you. They are your happy Christmas! Don’t just accept their help, reach out for their help. We heal in relationship with others. After D-Day, many people helped me and my children through the holidays. I look back fondly on all those gifts of love and support. You will too. If you’ve said “no” to someone’s help, call them back and say “yes, yes, yes”. Tell people exactly what you need. You and your boys are making their Christmas happy too.

  • My husband walked out three days before Christmas. Our anniversary also was the day after Christmas. Thus, the holiday season has the appearance of neon flashing lights that foreshadow impending hell. The first Christmas, which was zero-hour, I was too shell-shocked and just stared at the walls. I tried last Christmas, but finally accepted that maybe for a little while, I just will dislike the season. I never really cared much for it before.

    I marginally understand your disdain for the single parent label. I do not have kids, but I feel like my divorce is the the piece of shit in my life I keep scratching the litter over. I found myself exhausted at a holiday party yesterday with my colleagues, trying to gloss over gaps in my life I want to avoid explaining. I want to be known for my work and accomplishments, not have people feel sorry for my situation.

    My advice? Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Put up a little tree. Bake your kids favorite cookies. Keep it low-key. Make it about the things that really matter but people caught up in “normal” life forget. As for the cards, who really cares anyway? I love my friends, but I throw their cards away before I skip town for my annual New Year get away.

  • Limboland, sitting in holes in the ground, or hiding behind mud walls are soldiers who are going to be away from family this year. I have a young friend who begged people to send cards, letters, books etc to help the men and women fight loneliness. I think you and your sons will find a modicum of happiness by sharing part of yourselves through the holidays. If you can afford them places like WalMart, CVS, carry travel size handiwipes, deodorant etc to send. Soup kitchens need volunteers. Go to your local child protective agency and adopt a family for Christmas. Your boys will get a kick out of picking out toys for other children. Will it make your pain go away? No, but it will help get you through the holidays.

  • I learned recently that THEY (y’know – them; those guys in life who know everything :-D) have worked out that we like other people not for what they give us, but for how we can help them! 😀 The people who are offering help – please accept their help – it will be your Christmas present to them. They will feel good about themselves and they will love you more. Enormous hugs and fondest wishes to you and your lovely boys, xxxxx

    • This.

      I am not at the same place as you, LimboLand, nor will I ever, as I do not have children. However, I do remember learning that the greatest gift you can give is to allow them to give. It is not a sign of weakness to accept their offers of help or inclusion, but a sign of self-sufficiency. We Chumps excel at giving. We need to learn not to take, to grasp, but to accept freely-given offers.

      Think of it as our karmic payback for all the giving we did.

      But also yes, this holiday will be tough. Even if you know intellectually that all those so-called “intact” families are not always so perfect, when your family is obviously breaking apart (actually, it’s broken, due to fucktard), it’s hard to realize your family is just fine. You are the sane parent. You have three boys. You are able to be the positive influence in their life without having your STBXH subvert whatever parenting skills you bring to the table.

      Go create your own traditions. Do something that you’d never do with STBX around.

      Hugs to you and to the rest of the Chump Nation trying to be the sane parent for their children.

  • Dear LL,
    My situation of finding myself as a single mom was a bit different than yours. My husband died and I (a SAHM) was left with 4 kids to raise and support (my cheater came along much later). We found out he had cancer 3 weeks before one Christmas, and a year later, he’d been gone for 9 months, and we’d just moved to a new city, knew only one couple, and I was scared and feeling so alone.

    Yes, take help when it’s offered. I’ll be forever grateful for the casseroles, the offers for playtime and activities for my kids and the hugs and kind words. Yes, some people will pull away. Understand as graciously as you can that while you haven’t done anything wrong, some people will be uncomfortable and deal with it by blocking you out.

    My biggest coping mechanism was to focus on teaching my kids that while bad things can happen to good people, life isn’t going to be bad unless you give up. Even though I was terrified of raising three sons without a father, my kids turned out fine, and I could not be more proud of the men I raised.

    Start some new traditions. Ask those kids of yours for ideas. Have fun with it! “Fake it ’til you make it” was my motto, and it helped me keep my own attitude from affecting my kid’s attitudes. I tried hard to focus on the good, to find the things I could be grateful for. You know what? It had a long-term positive effect on my feelings and thoughts, and I believe THAT attitude has been a major factor in accomplishing many things since that time.

    Being a single mom only has to suck if you decide it sucks. Having the rug pulled out from under your life can be an excuse… or your motivation to do things you never thought you could do (I promise you’ll look back in 10 years and be proud of what you’ve done!). Sure you’re going to cry, but give yourself the gift of a smile in the mirror every morning while you say, “I got this!”

    Prayers and hugs.

    • Oh, and in a few years, when those boys of yours are all playing guitar and starting boy bands, buy a drum set. Then the band practices at your house (stays overnight, eats all your food…), and you will be loved and adored by all their friends!

        • LMAO…yep!

          The most fun part of the story came a few years later when I was downsizing to a smaller house. I was home alone packing and pitching, and one of the boy’s friends came to visit while I was packing up the basement. I called his mom to ask if she might be interested in having an antique rocking chair that I had stored. She said no, she didn’t have the room for it.

          Later, her son and I were sorting through the “boy band room.” I’m looking at this drum set, thinking no way is there room in the new house. He graciously offered to take it home. I left a note on it saying, “You could have just had a nice, quiet rocking chair…” 🙂

          I do miss the days of not knowing who all might come crawling out of my basement on Saturday mornings, though!

          • I have all that stuff too from when my daugher had a band with a few other middle schoolers. That was so much fun, I do miss it. Listening to those kids making music and being creative was so much fun. Never thought of it as noise at all.

  • Limboland, my heart goes out to you. I know how difficult the holidays are for those of us in divorceland. I’m two years out from D-day and I’m still struggling with the season. My children are grown, and won’t be home to spend Christmas with me for the first time in 28 years. They are both married and one has moved away. He doesn’t get time off for Christmas with his new job. I also compare myself at times to happy families or divorced friends with kids that live close and feel jipped. It’s hard. It’s really hard.

    What I’m trying to do is focus on the things I love. For instance, I love music. Whenever I’m around beautiful music it just brings me so much joy. Find whatever brings you joy and fit more of it into your life. In the beginning I tried to pay attention to the smallest things that brought me happiness and then fanned that flame with similar experiences. This is learning to meet your own needs which is hard Chumps who are used to meeting others’ needs.

    Also changing your normal holiday routine and doing something different helps. It distracts your mind and makes it focus on new experiences, which can give a little relief from the grief.

    The other thing that helps is to let others know you’re struggling, and accept their help. People feel good when they help others, so don’t deny them the pleasure of helping you. One day you will return the favor for them, or even someone else who’s just starting on this journey.

    Think about others who might be alone on the holidays. Maybe sit down with your boys and have them make simple gifts or ornaments to take to a local nursing home. Try to make other people’s holidays bright and it might bring you pleasure as well.

    But if that sounds overwhelming then just focus on yourself and making it through this Christmas. It’s okay to scale back and do less this year. Let people help you and love you during this difficult time. If you can’t afford a counselor you might be able to talk to a pastor for free. Mine was a wonderful, supportive resource during my first year.

  • Oh, and CL, I love these two sentences:

    “Divorce is not failure. Cheating is failure.”
    “This new stage of life isn’t a punishment, it’s a gift.”

    I think they are my new Mantras of the Month.

    • While this new stage is certainly preferable to living with a woman who was a cake eater if it’s a gift I think I’ll return it and go back to the plan of growing old together.

  • LL- Thewatcher makes some good points. You have every right to feel mentally and physically exhausted but consider how much worse you would feel if STBXH came back to the house for the holidays. You would be in total turmoil having to suffer the deceits and breathe the fetid air of that commitment-phobe cheater. This is your first Christmas where the kids can really see where the truth and strength of the family resides, and that is with you and your love for them and what you have together. IF you have the resources or the time to support the troops or give to the less fortunate as an activity with the kids, you are setting an example that you are looking beyond the immediate and devastating personal crisis, and life is moving on in positive ways. However, circling your wagons, taking care with yourself and finding peace, is certainly a priority this first Christmas.

  • It is amazing how often I feel like you are speaking right to me. It just reinforces the universality of being a chump even when it seems like such and isolating experience. I am also about 45 days from a final divorce from a NPD STBX. It has been a special kind of hell trying to separate my life from this man. I also have 3 kids 12 and under and no desire to play the holiday game this year. But I am thankful for my kids, my home and the fact that my life is my own again……there are brighter days ahead! Keep doing what you do….. I wouldn’t have made it this far without you!

  • Dear Limboland,

    This will be my 4th Christmas without the ex, and my divorce will be through in about another 2-3 mths. It took me that long to fight for my settlement and divorce! Sorry to tell you that you are still new to all this and that 6mths is just the beginning. I think I’m at meh now, although I still have an occasional angry day. Every one gets there when they get there. The first few years, all the holidays sucked so my advice to you is to keep your expectations low and know you”re still in crisis and it’s just gonna take time. Try to make a nice Christmas for your boys and like CL and the others said here, take time for yourself too, to do something that brings you some joy even if it’s just for a few minutes each day. I am a creative person and so ‘making something’ brought me joy. For example, knit a scarf, or bake some shortbread or a gingerbread house, read a good book, stay in your pj’s all day , or sit and watch the birds for a few minutes. I have found in life in general it’s really the simple things that have brought me the most joy.
    I’ve said this before, but sometimes the universe has to empty your hands before it can fill them up again, and you are still in the process of loss. There are so many layers of loss to this, but the good thing is, your life will fill up again and maybe not the way you expect it to. Some times the universe gives you what you need, not what you want, but I promise you this…it will fill up again, and it will be better than you could have imagined! I’m not talking about material things either. You will go on this journey and you will fill up inside with substance, wisdom, confidence and you will love how you feel. No one will ever be able to take that away from you!
    It took me a long time to stop comparing my new life with my old life. They are so different but I could never go back to my old life now. Trust you will get there, everything is as it should be, and you will get what you need! (((((Hugs))))))

  • you guys are making me tear up today.

    “You’re at the helm. That’s an intact family” – so true. This isn’t the vision I had of how my family would look, but maybe it’s actually better than what I had planned.

    I’m not sure I think being a single parent is easier (even the little my ex did was better than nothing… and at least his mere presence in the home meant I could actually run out at night and do some errands)… but I do know I’m happier and that makes me a better parent.

    Accepting and asking for help has been difficult for me, but I am getting better at it. I don’t want pity, but I don’t know if I want to be considered a HERO, either. Though some of my 22 year old classmates have called me a “bad-ass” 🙂 Feeling like people pity you is just us projecting our own shame about the situation. Something I was definitely guilty of for a long time.

    My Christmas’s (this will be my second) are relatively fine… probably because my kids were too young to really remember celebrating it as a, I guess, “traditional” family. So, actually I find Christmas more and more fun because my boys are just now getting to the age where they “get” it and are super excited about it. Also, we do a few things with their dad… like we’re all going to see Santa tomorrow. And we also do xmas morning together (because I refuse to miss seeing my boys come down the stairs xmas morning during these years where it is still so magical to them). Not sure how long that will last… but hopefully a while. Last year, I really kinda failed at the exterior xmas decorations, but I did better this year. My goal for next year is to send out xmas cards again. Something about signing those cards with just our three names (and maybe the dogs!) I think will be my last step to total acceptance and embracing of my new family dynamic.

    • You might not consider yourself a hero, but IMO you’re a hero to your kids.

      You’re the person who is putting in the time, who is present, raising them. Your ex isn’t. He gets Disney dad privileges — and the little highlights of Xmas morning. You’re the person doing the WORK.

      Your kids will know who has their back, and who was there for them.

      In my book, you’re heroic.

      • Yes, your kids *will* know who has their back.

        After my divorce, I was the single mom raising them while their father “started a new family” (his words). My daughters are all now in their 20’s and out on their own, but I remember something my oldest said to her sisters a few years back. Funny, it’s from a canceled TV show “Veronica Mars.” She said, “…it’s the parent who stays who is the hero.”

  • Hi Limbo,
    You are on the schedule I was on last year… Decision to divorce first week of July, divorced finalized a couple of months post holidays.

    This is my second holiday post split, and it is MUCH better than last year.
    Accept all offers of help. The offers are sincere. This is what has kept me same the past year.

    Just take deep breaths, and enjoy every single day with your children.

  • Dear LimboLand,
    I’m right with you – six months out from separation and divorce not yet finalized. I have an adolescent daughter who will be with me on Christmas day (I fought like hell to get her for the day – scared the narcissist STBX with MY rage, for a change). There are the two of us, and I’m tempted to say “only” two of us, but I’m not. She and I are still a family – now a functional, loving family. I’ve had to remind myself of that every day at this season when I see groups of people in matching sweaters. There is no doubt that Christmas will be hard for my daughter and me. I’ve had a very bad time recently – kind of slept-walked through Thanksgiving, and I know Christmas will be, well, just… hard. I’m slowly learning to let things go, and I’ve tried to teach my daughter to do the same. I want some traditions to remain familiar to her, but we also have to make new memories. We’re not sure yet what they will be. Maybe we will order out pizza and go see a movie. Maybe we’ll buy some Fancy Feast for a couple of stray cats in the neighborhood. We’ve been through a lot in these six months. We’ve gotten to know each other better. We’ve been on adventures we would never have experienced if the STBX had remained in the house and at the helm, especially since we spent almost all our time walking on eggshells, trying not to piss him off. LimboLand, your boys have you — a strong, loving, responsible, dedicated mom — and you’ve got three beautiful boys who love you. That’s a beautiful family. As CL said, they know you have their back, and as they grow into fine young men, you can bet they’ll have yours.

  • CL is right. So many of us have been preparing for single parenting since we had kids and our selfish spouses found other people to adore them. I’m happy for you that your divorce so far is amicable. That in itself is a lovely parting gift, and so many of us never experienced anything close.

    Allow others to be kind to you and your children. That is what the season is all about. And there will come a day when you will look back and think, “That sucked, but I’m on the other side of it now. And I’m living a life that might not be the one I had planned, but I never planned on being married to a cheater anyway.

    It gets better. Try to focus on joyful moments with your sons; you’ll be amazed at how they add up when you’re looking for them.


  • LL, you are hero in my eyes for having the courage to get away from a cheater and raising three young boys. I didn’t. I stayed and stayed and stayed until I was given the gift of a “Dear John” speech on Christmas Day last year. And I woke up, divorced him, went through hell and am nowon the other side, happier than I have ever been. Give yourself permission to cry, to vent, to feel the pain but also promise yourself not to stay in that space. Fake it ’til you make it does work. Accept help as a lot of chumps here advised. People really want to help. Those perfect families? We looked like one of them for years except I was dying on the inside. It was too high a price to pay for the “Look everyone, I have a perfect family” Christmas photo card. This year, my child and I have a Christmas photo card and finally, what friends and family will see is a perfect family free from deceit and emotional abuse. I promise you next Christmas will be better.

  • Thank you CL and everyone who has posted! Your comments have already helped me and boosted my self-esteem that “I can do hard things!”

    Chutes and ladders-I love this: “That sucked, but I’m on the other side of it now. And I’m living a life that might not be the one I had planned, but I never planned on being married to a cheater anyway.”

  • Limbo-

    You described me to a tee but that was last year. Oh what a difference a year makes. I found myself reeling from the shock of finding the ex had been having an affair and cringing at the image of having to spend the holidays a newly single parent. i felt paralyzed and all Xmas traditions came to a screeching halt. No tree, no Xmas cards, nothing. This year I pulled the tree out, sent the cards, and am celebrating. Divorce was finalized in August and every day gets better. Do I have bad days? Yes. But as chump lady points out I mourn the life I thought I had, not the reality. So i have pieced my life back together one day at a time and am hopeful that one day it will all fall into place. Good luck and hang in there!

  • The last Christmas with my family intact I sent out a beautiful picture of my family in matching pj’s sitting on a stone faced fireplace in front of a roaring fire. We looked like a Hallmark card.

    Behind that picture was the worst Christmas of my life. I knew my ex was cheating and I was living a lie. I tried so hard to make Christmas special and “win” him back (chump). I wanted so bad to show him what he would be missing if he left.

    He left 4 months later. Now, 6 years later I am so grateful for my freedom. I am who I was supposed to be before he took (I allowed) my self confidence.

    It gets better. It really does. It gets great. It gets what you make it.

    Don’t believe all the Christmas cards. Behind some of those beautifully posed photos lie a lot of agony and heartbreak. Hold your head high and make Christmas what you always wanted it to be. Be the single mom with a smile on your face and lots of happy twinkle lights!!

  • This will be our 3rd Christmas since Crusty the Clown walked out on us. My 3 kids are all over 18 so in many ways, I think that’s better. It is so very hard to deal with. This year is good cuz we’ve have gone through so much together including my breast cancer which I know made us all realize that Crusty’s behavior and antics are really minor compared to my health scare.

    Limbo, you know you have to do it for your kids. It is okay if they see you cry. It is sad and traumatic. There were times when I would drive around in the car and just cry my eyes out so they wouldn’t see me and proceed to call my sisters and friends and cry some more. I could fill a lake with the tears and so could my kids.

    Your life has been turned upside down and you have been suckerpunched by the man you loved and trusted with your life and security. Take care of you and those precious boys. Keeping busy with anything helped me. Cooking, cleaning, finding a job, baking, cleaning closets, walking my dog. By the way, if you don’t have a dog, consider getting one. We did six months after Crusty left. OMG, he has helped comfort all of us so much! Love him to pieces. When I am sad, he knows and comes to me. He chose us. He was homeless and we were hopeless. We gave him a home and he gave us hope that we can get better, love each other more and become closer than before. He is the new baby.

    They all have learned so much. Life lessons. He has lost a job, his marriage, his children, parents, friends, home, financial security, respect, dignity and integrity. Cannot get much lower. Adultery and abandoment = Serious Life Long Consequences.

    We are a lovely family of four now. Used to be five but he removed himself from his lovely family and is now living a fake life with a tramp and her kids pretending thats all good! He is the LOSER and the QUITTER and so is yours Limbo. You did not cause or choose this, he did. He is the damn fool who threw away a lovely wife and family. Enjoy those little boys. They need you more than ever before. It is okay to be a single mom. I know many women who are and they are lovely and brave and have wonderful and beautiful children. It is like an epidemic in our small town. So many divorces going on of couples married 25 years plus.

    Did the Christmas card with the dog and signed it, The Crusty Family. No need to put all our names. Family and friends who love and care about us will get the cards. The rest who have chosen to delete us from their lives, (brother and sister in law) will get no card from me this year.

    The other thing that has helped is doing activities we didn’t do cuz Crusty didn’t like to or wasn’t good at them. Like skiing, downhill and cross country, ice skating, rented a lake house in the winter, taking our dog to the woods, going to non violent interesting movies. Eating tons of fish which he hated and I always had to have beef or chicken for him when we all wanted salmon, shrimp or crab. So, think of things YOU like and YOU want to teach and show your children and do as many of them as you can. They will thank you when they are older for showing them all that you can.

    Take care and remember to lean on family and friends during this time. So many good people in our lives really do come out of the woodwork to help when the chips are down. I will be forever grateful to those people in my life. Hugs and comfort to your and your boys.

  • Limbo, I too can attest that even by next year this will be SOOOO much easier for you. This will be our second Xmas w/out the ex, and our lives feel right and normal now, despite the occasional difficult moment (often brought on by contact w/the ex – the ‘less is better’ rule STILL applies to that man in my life!).

    Just wanted to encourage you to go REALLY REALLY easy on yourself this year. Have extremely low expectations for what the holidays will be like – those are easy to meet 😉 .

    Keep only the parts of the holidays that you and your kids love best. Simplify whenever possible. Last year, since there were only the 3 of us, I didn’t make a big breakfast like I normally would have, and our Xmas dinner was chicken, not turkey, none of us likes half the side dishes anyway, and the neighbourhood bakery makes a great ‘buche noel’. We put up the tree and some lights on the inside of the windows, didn’t put any outside. I bought lots of small gifts for the kids, nothing big at all, but that meant a long and extended stocking-and-present opening, with lots of small surprises, silly things and cool things, which the kids loved. And if there are custody or visitation issues that make the holidays complicated, celebrate when you can, don’t worry about the actual dates!

    I did cry when the kids were w/their dad Xmas eve, while I wrapped presents and drank more eggnog than is good for me (that stuff is SICKENING! and there wasn’t even any booze in it!), but when they were around, I really focussed on making it a good time for them, enjoyed as much as I possibly could, and remembered how grateful I am to be able to celebrate with my kids and to talk to so many family and friends on the phone and Skype, to have us all in good health and to look forward to a better year ahead. And it really has been.

    Mourn the family you thought you had, yes, but celebrate the one you’ve got, too!

  • Have been searching for something about the holidays to share on my facebook page for days. All I’ve been able to find til now has been super cheesy or downright depressing. This timing is perfect.
    The sooner we start making new fun things around the holidays and new traditions of our own, the better. There are some traditions the kids need to keep, but you can mix those into the new ones so it doesn’t feel as though there is somebody missing from the picture quite so much. With kids, two things always seemed to help – movies and music. They help most of us, I guess. Oh, and popcorn. Popcorn is always good.

  • Dear Limboland:
    This is what you have to look forward to down the road and it will happen. Your life will open up and blossom. You will fall in love with yourself after some time passes and you heal. You, yourself will blossom and become far more than you ever imagined. Trust me, it’s just starting to happen to me. Just go easy on yourself, you can cry as a matter of fact I recommend it as well as getting angry as hell and punching something inanimate. Scream, yell, cry, get it all out.

    Be happy you have your boys, they will keep you going and not allow too much “poor me” time and they will make you laugh.

    Once you start healing you will realize the best protector of you and your family is YOU! It will probably be the first time you can say that and damn it feels great! No one can mess you ever again unless you let them but I am pretty sure that will not happen again after going through this shit.

    It takes time but it happens.

    Unfortunately no one can take the pain away and you do have to get through it to the other side but I really promise you that it is worth getting to the other side.

    One day you will wake up and realize that he is just a small speckle of turd on the bottom of your shoe and never deserved you in the first place. He was damn lucky to have you.

    He will be your past, just a memory.

    Wishing you a fun holiday season and Light at the other side!

  • Buy some of those gingerbread house kits and a lot of pretty candy, and have them each decorate a gingerbread house. Take pictures of them–the homelier or the lovelier, the better, either way. You will treasure those pictures. And they will look forward every year to the same thing. If you have a candy phobia, let it go for a day. It’s Christmas, and candy doesn’t kill. Depression can, though. Make ornaments, cookies, whatever, or find the perfect ornament for this year at Target or World Market or something WITH your kids. Play Christmas music. My kids LOVE Christmas music! Take two of the boys out for an hour to buy the third one a present, and then rotate. How exciting! (Or make them–coupon books, for example. As in, “I will take out the trash on your night.”) String popcorn garland. Watch a classic movie, like “Home Alone.” Make paper snowflakes. Tape them to the windows.

    DO continue to decorate for Christmas, if not for yourself, than for the kids, to make them feel secure about continuing holiday/family traditions. Fake it if you have to. There will be some laughs and some cringing and some good memories that you are making. I promise. Hug them. You’re TOGETHER! This is PRECIOUS!! It doesn’t last forever. HUG. THEM!!

    I just LOVE LOVE LOVE what Tracy wrote back to you. It is exactly how I feel. My three sons and I ARE an INTACT FAMILY, minus an idiot. Anyone can see that. Because as devastated as I was in the beginning (it was rough), it does get better, and I am proud to say that many of those two-parent families admire mine for our senses of humor, for how much I obviously love my kids and am involved with their schooling and sports, for surviving a really fucked up situation with a lot of grace. (Nobody has any idea how much I swear. Ahahahah! I hope not!) In fact, I still call us “THE Smith Family.” I donated money to my son’s school’s annual fundraiser on behalf of “THE Smith Family.” WITH FUCKING PRIDE. Everyone knows. As Tracy says, I’m at the helm. I am one classy-assed chick. Really! I amuse myself. And I make people laugh. My ex is dour, and he slinks in and out of school functions before slithering back to that nasty ho he left us for. She’s pretty, but everyone knows a homewrecker is nasty.

    Someone once pointed out that I am an inspiration to women and men who FEAR being alone. Inevitably, sadly, chances are, one or more women or men I know will be joining my single status. I am showing them that it can be done with panache.

    I don’t burden anyone with my sad sack story–I save that for here, or for friends whom I can trust, and who have been through the same thing. Otherwise, I try to look/smell good and see the humor and great JOY in life. Because there is a TON to be grateful for.

    You know what? I AM LUCKY. I have a GREAT life. I am minus one fucktard. He is the OW’s problem, now. (Yippee!!) My kids are healthy, halleLUJAH! Every DAY I meet someone with REAL problems, and I wouldn’t trade their life for mine, ever.

    I decided not to go looking in far-off places for love until my youngest goes off to college in just under a year. By then it will have been about 3 and a half years after D-Day. In that time I’ve grown closer to my kids (they have MAD respect for me, especially since I don’t bad-mouth their fucktard father ever in front of them, yet have NOTHING whatsoever to do with him, in total NC), I’ve made new friends and grown closer to old friends, I’ve kept an awesome job that supports my FAMILY, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the same women I looked down my nose at once upon a time (you know, those divorced women?), remodeled the kitchen in my very modest home, built a fucking FENCE on my own (thank you, YouTube!!). I could go on and on. A lot of it I boast about on FB. I’m doing what I need to do, a lot of what I want to do, and creating a list of more things I look forward to doing, including dating (even if only for fun), traveling, learning new things, getting new professional accreditation, etc. So exciting what’s in my future. What’s in yours? You have a lot of choices.

    I’m a little late, but this Saturday, I’m going to hang the roof lights. I bought some of those plastic ornaments to hang outside on the bare branches of my maple tree in the front yard. Jesus, just doing that puts a lot of magic in your heart, I’m telling you. The bright shiny happiness of little Christmas lights? It takes my breath away. Then the fact that I did it myself? Tch! One of my divorced friends (she is GORGEOUS! And her fucktard xH left her for a slutty chick young enough to be his daughter) hung her own lights this week and posted it on FB, and a ton of us “liked” it, marveling at her can-do spirit. She is SO proud of herself, and she should be. Sometimes you gotta inspire yourself, you know? Then it takes off like a snowball. Then there’s no stopping you. Hell, I change the lightbulbs in my headlights now. Or, I let the cute guy at the Honda dealership do it. Either way…. There is SO much you are capable of. It makes you awesome.

    I’ll go get a tree at the local shop–but I know families minus one fucktard who drive to the tree farm and have it cut down, and let someone tie it to the roof of the car, and take it home–that’s their tradition, and how nice is that?? I can’t remember the last time I didn’t take care of the tree myself when I WAS married to the coward, so what’s the difference? I’ll tell you what–not having to look at him and wonder what sort of “man” he is.

    I KNOW that a lot of two-parent families are UNhappy, but that brings me no joy. What does bring me joy is knowing that in spite of the walk-away coward’s behavior, MY values ARE intact. That is to say, I still believe in marriage and fidelity and family and love–and I am happy when I see families confirming what I know is good and righteous in this world. I’m really, truly happy for them and happy for me that I know the difference between right and wrong. It’s just that I married an idiot when I was young and inexperienced, that’s all. Marriage didn’t work out for me, but I have three great sons who are doing well, and my family is a blessing–all four of us.

    Hang in there, sweetie! Keep coming here. You’ll find what you’re looking for here and in yourself. I promise.

    • Hi Stephanie.

      Thanks for posting this. I am celebrating 7 months out from DDay today. Yay! It is going to be a rough Christmas this year in so many ways.

      It’s so good to see how happy you are. I can’t wait to get there, but I know it will take time. Thanks for the inspiration and for taking the time to help the rest of us.

      PS I swear a lot on here too, but not so much in real life. It feels good to vent that way 🙂

    • Good turkey gravy, Stephanie! That was magnificent! I am giving you a mad standing ovation as I type this on my kindle. Chump Lady has so many seriously remarkable people — starting with CL herself. And you are an inspiration of the first order. That post of yours is one that I am printing out as a Christmas gift to myself. Dayum, girl! Way to show how it’s done.

    • 🙂 Awesome Stephanie………I am decorating like crazy (on a budget) Just had my Xmas tree delivered out of storage (moved abroad) and every decoration I have was collected and paid for by me over the last 18 years, I put it up, winced, wobbled a bit but I now love it !!!everytime I see it lit up!!! Just because my XH ran out 10 days before Xmas does not mean I can never celebrate it ever again. This is my 2nd Xmas since DDay, it is slightly better than last year, getting there slowly. 🙂

    • Thank you Stephanie!!!! It is nice to have a lot of cheerleaders on here to help me get through the divorce and eventually to “meh”.

  • I feel like I’m beginning to see within myself the wisdom of a grandma. Having raised three sons, at times frantically, I now realize that there is so much value in doing things with your kids, even imperfectly.

    For example, if you set out to bake cookies WITH your young kids, any of a number of wonderful things happen. They make homely cookies, that are so perfectly precious in their imperfection. They gain new experience, and next year the cookies look better. OR, they SHOCK you with how creative they are, and they do a darned fine job the first time around. You create love and togetherness–even if there’s flour on the floor, and one burnt batch, or one of them had to go to time-out for losing his shit. You learn something new about one or more of your kids, and vice-versa. You slow things down for a few hours. You focus on something besides pain. They remember that time you baked cookies together. And they want to do it again every year. Someone says something hilarious and you all laugh until you cry, it is so funny. Someone says something profound, or you realize someone needs an explanation.

    Treasure this time. Don’t worry about what you think others are thinking. You worry about what is right for right now.

    Now, go on.

  • I have I one little boy who is 6. I’m very worried as Christmas approaches. I’m short on money because the EX is not giving me as much due to “his expenses” so I haven’t bought a single present yet. We usually open gifts at our house from Santa then go to my parents for gifts and lunch and then back home for a quiet dinner just the 3 of us. The EX is coming over in the morning but obviously not welcome the rest of the day and I’m expecting tears no matter how I explain it. Thanksgiving was hard for my son already and so was my EX’s bday. Both days my son was sad. I only hung our 2 stockings and my son keeps asking when will we hang Dada’s stocking. Since we have such a small family the “loss” of his father not being around is very obvious. I agree with the feeling of “intact families” and my brothers family is one of them and I’m very happy for them it’s just that my son constantly talks about and questions about the “no fight families”. It breaks my heart.

    • Michelle,

      Being a single mom (now all grown) and starting my own freelancing business, I know hard financial times. Here are a few ideas for fun and gifts that you can do on a very tight budget:

      Dollar store, thrift stores, used sporting goods stores…you can get clothing, stocking stuffers, a new hockey stick, etc., all for a song. Bake cookies with your guy! Cheap fun, he’ll love that he got to spend that time with you, and he can learn about reading and fractions! Take HIM to a thrift or dollar store and assemble a gift bag for a less fortunate family. Trust me, even at his young age, he is capable of feeling great empathy and great pride for having helped someone less fortunate than himself. Buy an inexpensive game for you both to open and play on Christmas day. Make that a new tradition. Go camping in your living room, tell stories by flashlight, tell him funny stories from when he was a baby. Anything to fuel his sense of fun and imagination.

      Bless you both.

  • Michelle, many child protective agencies have volunteers who adopt a family for Christmas. So do churches. I know this might be hard for you to ask for help but your little one is only 6 once.

    • Thank you. It’s tight but not that bad yet. I’m just waiting to get a little more money together and then go shopping. It’s just that it seems extra tough because of the breakup.

  • Thank you, everyone. It’s actually not that bad yet as far as the gifts. I’m just waiting to get some more money to go shopping. It’s just that every task seems tougher this year because of the breakup. I’m shopping for him on Monday. I’ve been doing Elf on the Shelf and we saw Santa come to our town. It’s still sad because all this child wants is for us to be a family again. He talks about it a lot. He is 6 going on 60.

    • In the early months, when my kids were upset when things weren’t ‘like they used to be’, I found it helpful to deal with that in a 2 step way. First, to recognize how they’re feeling, saying things like ‘you’re really sad your dad isn’t here’ can help a lot. Sometimes that leads to some tears and a cuddle – that’s OK! Then to state the new reality, and some little thing you can do to feel better. So something like ‘this year it’s just us for most of Xmas, but we’ll still have all the fun of being at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Should we bring them a special cake?’.

      I not only saw this help my kids, it helped ME! Yes, I was sad we didn’t have our previous family set-up for Xmas, but yes, that was the reality, and there were things I could do to feel just that bit better.

      This year our family of 3 (me and the two kids) feels nice and normal, and we’re doing Xmas OUR way.

      • Thank you, KarenE. That’s great advice. He sometimes stumps me with questions and I try to field his sad response by probably talking to much. I’m going to try this approach!

  • Limbo
    I was you last year. THis is terrible but i remember throwing christmas cards in the fireplace last year because i was so angry they showed pictures of intact “happy” families. One year later, it is sooooooo much better that i actually look forward to getting those cards. Everything is not perfect but life never is. In the worst of it just remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and you will be there before you no it.
    Oh and as for the intact families I know one such family who put on quite the performance but each spouse has a private eye on the other and the wife is just trying to get enough dirt on the husband so she can justify the divorce. NOnetheless, they put on quite the image of the intact perfect family. WHile i wish them the best, my only point is that these “intact” families have their own sets of problems you wouldn’t envy.

  • Dear Limbo,
    Your story resonated with me. Although I don’t have children (I let myself be convinced by my NPD exh that we should have a lifelong “romance”, and although he made money hand over fist, he insisted I would work because that’s what feminists did, but that’s a rant for my therapist)
    I have dreaded holidays as the single female in what seems like a world made of happy families and couples. I would love to have the support you have! You also have built in friend facilitators with those three young boys. 🙂 As many have said here, don’t deprive others from the pleasure of helping. I suspect some are paying back those who helped them through tough times. The kindness of your community can help ease some of the pain. I find even the kindness of a store clerk shows me there are good people in the world.
    Many chumpsters recommended new holiday traditions. I agree! It does help. A dear decorator friend (Lucky me!) said it time for me to put a tree again. The only decorations allowed were ones that had good memories. All the rest were packed up and taken to Goodwill. I cut cedar and fir boughs from a friend’s woods (a new lovely tradition–tromping through the mud, dogs racing around us, misty rain falling, time with an old friend who gets what it’s like) a filled a tree with white lights, candy canes and jingle bells tied with twine, cedar branches on the mantle with pine cones, more woven through the dining room chandelier, vases filled with more evergreens and holly from the neighbor’s tree. I hosted a party and people were wowed. It feels new and comforting and mine. Decorating the house differently than when I was married helped more than I thought. And it hardly cost me anything at all.
    My last comment regards feeling embarrassed for being single. Of course, I don’t know you, but if you put another mom in your place, how would you feel when you saw her at church or on the soccer field? I’d want to hug her, bring her a Starbuck’s coffee, make her sit in my fold-up chair because she deserved it! I’d think heroic and admire her herculean strength. A song that runs through my mind often is “Luck in My Eyes” by k.d. lang. I sing it in my head when I need extra grace.
    ” can feel a mountain rain
    That’ll wash away and shine again
    Gonna empty my pockets that were weighing me down
    Sift through my soul to see what’s lost and found

    Gonna walk away from trouble with my head held high
    Then look closely, you’ll see luck in my eyes

    I can hear a howling wind
    That sweeps away the pain that’s been
    Take all my sorrows
    And I’ll cast away the worries tomorrow that I had today”
    This is more than I intended to write but it has done me good this morning. See? Letting people reach out to you helps them as well, so don’t deny us?
    Sending good wishes and buoyancy your way, Limbo.

  • I planned this all out for over a year in my head. I read books, I financially prepared. I hired the best dam attorney that I doubt I can afford, I hit first, I hit hard and most days I am 3 steps ahead of the stupid ass undiagnosed narcissistic sob.
    He got me the other day. I can pay off the van, loan and titled in his name. He has a company car. He wants me to make the payments on the van and keep it all in his pretty little name. Due to him not paying medical bills on the kids when I took them to the doctor and ER, it hit MY credit so I am having a hell of a time getting financing for a loan. Ass is demanding the van or else. Just talked to my lawyer and he said asshole can get a court order because the judge will find it very interesting that he wants to leave me with 3 boys and no car.
    I am a warrior survivor but right now, this exact moment, I feel like a a wimpy victim. Merry Christmas kids, your dad took our only means of transportation. Hope Santa leaves us a gd sleigh.

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