Achieve New-Found Joy During Holidays In Spite of a Break-Up, Says Divorce Reality Expert Nan Cohen

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Keep it simple and real, says Nan Cohen, long-time radio host whose expertise comes from her own post-divorce journey. "Nan on Divorce" provides six simple tips for enjoying the holidays and new year with your family, children and friends in the face of a marital or relationship split.

“Co-workers and even your own parents may be well-meaning but may have their own opinions from knowing about your past relationship experience. This is a time to build new relationships and friendships that aren’t connected to your ex, even anecdotally.”

Broken traditions, unexpected travel, and new locations for holiday celebrations— these are just the tip of the iceberg for families coping with the realities of relationship break-ups during the holidays. Children are particularly vulnerable, stresses divorce reality expert Nan Cohen, host of “Dealing with Divorce” on Pittsburgh’s KQV-AM.

“Christmas and New Year’s Eve have their unique pressures,” says Cohen, who focuses on the personal and wellness concerns around divorce.    

The results, Cohen says, can be chaotic and emotional if parents don’t anticipate the crush of memories, long-kept traditions, and logistics that include shopping, travel, and even pet care.

Nan Cohen speaks from the experience of her own painful divorce, listening to those wading through the pain and confusion of broken relationships. She is passionate about the effects of divorce on children, who may be overlooked in the midst of parental disagreements and conflicts--long after the papers have been signed.

“Don’t complicate things by focusing on your circumstances,” says Cohen, observing how easily emotions can take hold and be passed on to children.

“Focus on the joys of the season, your kids and their happiness.”

This includes recognizing that children are often at the hub of a family network that may include several sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and more. “Grandparents suffer a lot,” Cohen says, having observed how difficult it may be for grandparents to have even a few hours with grandchildren when their own child has divorced. Custody arrangements affect many relatives

Cohen suggests six simple rules for those dealing with separation and divorce during holidays:

1.    Be good to yourself and others. Foremost, patience with one’s self is importance for anyone dealing with a loss, says Cohen. “Feeling good about yourself is so important and those near us will ultimately affect you,” she says. Cohen’s advice includes building new networks and contacts—both professionally and socially. “Co-workers and even your own parents may be well-meaning but may have their own opinions from knowing about your past relationship experience. This is a time to build new relationships and friendships that aren’t connected to your ex, even anecdotally.”

Regarding parents, “You can’t do this without them,” Cohen says, recognizing that grandparents are often the most positive care-givers and friends a child may have. “But you need to decide what they can do and can’t do for you as you make this transition.”

2.    Keep it simple. Pare off the layers of influence that add pressure on the children and planning. Be realistic about time for holiday preparation, activities, and travel. Avoid overload and don’t over commit anyone. Some families are dealing with multiple issues these days, including unemployment. Simplifying is almost always a positive approach.

3.    Put the kids in the spotlight. Your simmering emotions-- which may include anger, resentment or downright confusion--deserve a break.

4.    Ask for help. Do you need a sitter so you can finish shopping? Are you running out of time to bake? Prioritize, then ask for help from those who care about you. A few hours of child care can provide others with a break and can be considered a gift to you. Ask a friend to add another dozen cookies to her batch and offer something in return. Your time is a precious commodity in keeping priorities in place for your family.

5.    Create new traditions. Cohen says this is especially important for the parent who may be hosting children in a new location. Decorations, stockings, and gifts are great, but shared activities like picking out and decorating a tree, making cookies, even volunteering are all important choices that make memories and provide quality time between parents and kids.

6.    Allow time outside the new blended family. While integrating families is a healthy goal, time for each parent with their own children is also important, especially if the split is recent. Plan a special shopping trip for the grandparents or reading a favorite book, says Cohen, are examples that can be personal parts of the holiday. If you have your own traditions, share them in the blended family. It can be meaningful way to strengthen new bonds.

“Breaking up or managing the details around your past or in-process divorce is never easy.” In turn, focusing on others—your parents, family members, and people in need in your community, can have its rewards.

“There is always someone who needs you,” says Cohen. “It doesn’t cost anything except your time. When you focus on being there for others, you won’t regret making a difference where you can.”

“What about New Year’s Eve?” is often asked of Cohen.

“It’s not the end of the world to be dateless as the old year goes out,” she says. “Think of it as a new beginning and treat yourself. Surround yourself with friends and laugh—about anything, anything at all. Even if you can’t bring yourself to leave the house, treat yourself—whether it’s a bubble bath, a new game on the Wii, an extra workout, or a favorite movie.”

Avoid triggers, Cohen says. “Don’t set yourself up for a big cry by playing that song you and your ex cherished. Be realistic, but make it a point to create a positive checklist for New Year’s Eve. Then extend those positive concepts for the month of January and beyond.”

As kids head back to school after the holiday break, some parents are dealing with lawyers, signing papers, and coping with post-holiday emotions around divorce.

“I talk to many people whose divorces will become final in January,” she says. “What is essentially for the convenience of reporting taxes creates a landmark as a new year begins.”

Seize that opportunity, Cohen urges, to make the new year YOUR year. She notes that those who are experiencing especially turbulent emotions and difficulties around the holidays should consult a counselor or their spiritual leader.

“It is realistic to feel sadness amid the joy of season,” Cohen says. “Taking care of one’s well-being is one of the best gifts you can give your children and family.”

Day by day, month by month, says Cohen, it will get better.

For more than decade, Nan Cohen tackles divorce-related topics when she leads on-air discussions with a professional (psychologist, children's expert, lawyer) on “Dealing with Divorce", next airing on KQV-AM 1410, Pittsburgh on Thursday, December 23 at 7:30 pm.


Nan Cohen considered marriage a lifetime commitment. Her new reality began abruptly when she returned from a family vacation to her husband’s demand for a divorce. It was the early 1990’s and she was the mother of a 14-month-old daughter. While her world was turned upside down, her husband—knowledge from his prior divorce—accessed and locked Nan out of their bank accounts and credit cards, leaving her without even cash for a new car seat for their growing toddler.

Nan learned the realities of divorce by experiencing it—a long and bitter divorce, joint custody, social stigma, and emotional turmoil. Through it all, she gained empowerment by being there for others experiencing divorce. By the time her second husband said, “Nan, you should become a divorce therapist,” Nan was recognizing a niche. Surrounding herself with a panel of superb lawyers, accountants, certified divorce financial analysts, marriage counselors, and even judges, Nan has created a forum in which to explore the myriad of aspects of divorce.

Finding her voice as a quick-witted, practical and non-nonsense resource, Nan hosts DEALING WITH DIVORCE, on the air since 2004 This 30-minute weekly radio show is heard on Pittsburgh’s KQV 1410 AM and on online Thursdays at 7:30 pm. Here, her valued experts join her to discuss divorce and all its related issues. ”Nan on Divorce” is now recognized as the go to person on divorce. While she does not promote divorce, Nan does promote understanding all of the complexities of divorce: from custody to alimony, child support to financial settlements, parenting skills and even remarriage.

Centrally, Nan promotes everyone dealing with divorce to do what is best for the involved children.

In addition to DEALING WITH DIVORCE, Nan has hosted THE HOME SOLUTIONS SHOW dealing with high end home improvements, PITTSBURGH’S TALKING PETS, PITTSBURGH LIFESTYLES, A show featuring local businesses which can improve your life, and MIND, BODY AND SOUL, a show about your emotional well-being with a leading Pittsburgh Psychiatrist. Nan began with a local show regarding plastic surgery. She is a contributor on KDKA-TV on “Pittsburgh Today Live” and a frequent guest expert in programs and media stories about divorce.            

Nan’s 14-month-old daughter is now 19 and a freshman in college. Her 10-year-old daughter with her second husband is in fifth grade. Her husband and family supports her goal to help people going through a divorce; besides, Nan concurs, her husband knows he would get his clock cleaned if he divorced her.

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