Being an Adult Child of Divorce—at the Holidays

Being an Adult Child of Divorce—at the Holidays

As an adult child of divorce, there are many tricky dynamics and raw emotions that are bound to arise. Now, throw in a heaping dose of family togetherness, eye-to-eye conversations around the dinner table, and memories from the past that tend to creep in this time of year and it can make for an interesting scene.

It’s a club I never anticipated being a member of, but I am learning not just to survive this time of year, but to find new ways to cherish it and embrace it even more. Here are some of the things I have slowly learned when it comes to divorce.

What you need to know as an adult child of divorce (especially at the holidays)

1. You are not responsible for making everyone feel comfortable.

If you’re part of a family that tries to have some shared holiday events “for the kids’ sake,” ping-ponging back and forth between parents to make sure everyone is okay can be exhausting. Being the people-pleaser that I am and wanting both sides to enjoy the holidays, I try to go out of my way to ease the discomfort and interject in the awkward silences. But as an adult child of divorce, sometimes, going out of your way to make things less awkward only has the opposite effect.

2. It is okay to feel sad.

This was a hard lesson for me to learn. Special memories from this time of year can become tainted. I was recently passed down all of the family tree ornaments—the trolley from my parents’ trip to San Francisco, the moose from our annual family trip to Colorado, the Baby’s First Christmas, the gingerbread man who still clings to his memory-inducing scent. Being gifted such sentimental items feel betraying, as if no one else wants to deal with the memories, as if everyone has moved on from that life. I don’t think I’m being melodramatic when I say that divorce can feel like a death, a shift of identities, and a loss of future dreams. So, it’s okay to feel the sadness.

When it comes to divorce, you are not responsible for making everyone feel comfortable.

3. It’s also okay to feel joy.

Amid new grief, there is sometimes guilt in feeling joy. Our family’s first Christmas post-divorce saw the absence of a parent. That loss was felt deeply when our normal tradition of Christmas Eve dinner was held, and the usual casseroles were nowhere to be found. But, new traditions were made, new memories seared in our hearts, and a new heightened appreciation for family was instilled—and in that, there is joy.

4. Give and receive grace.

Family and friends may not know how to behave or have the right words of advice or comfort. Give them grace. Someone says, “But you get double the presents!” Give them grace. Different sides of the family may be hurt when they’re not the one you chose to spend time with this year. Give them grace. A parent may forget to get presents because the other always assumed that role. Give them grace. You may feel hurt, anger, or frustration. Give yourself grace. You may not be ready to see a parent’s new significant other at the family gathering. Give yourself grace. You may feel the warm, fuzzy memories of this season have been hijacked, and the new normal just doesn’t feel normal yet. Give yourself grace.

I don’t think I’m being melodramatic when I say that divorce can feel like a death… So, it’s okay to feel the sadness.

As an adult child of divorce, prepare your heart this holiday season, a season that represents love, peace, and reconciliation. When the comfort of family tradition is traded for awkward adjustments, smother yourself and those you love with grace. Give it out undeservedly and with sincerity. It is the greatest gift you can give and receive this year.

For related articles on relationship advice and difficulty during the holidays, start here:

The Best Way to Co-Parent During the Holidays
Ask Dr. Zoe – Grieving Divorce
This Is for You If Your Circumstances Feel Unfair
How to Move On From the Loss of a Dream
Ask Dr. Zoe – Family Pressure During the Holidays
When Life Gives You a New Normal 

Don’t miss these popular articles:

True Beauty is Found in a Woman’s Strength 
This Is Why You Can’t Rely on Looks in a Relationship
Put on Your Big Girl Panties and Get to Work (On Yourself)
When a Strong Woman Is Quitting, But Not Failing
Bible Verses From the Grit and Grace Team on Grace

You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: How to Avoid Relationship Conflict Over the Holidays – 111!

Scroll to Top