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Being a Child of Divorce—at the Holidays

Being-a-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.

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

If you’re still a 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 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 feels 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.

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3. It’s also okay to feel joy.

In the midst of 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 on 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.

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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 holidays, start here:

The Best Way to Co-Parent During the Holidays
Ask Dr. Zoe – Grieving Divorce
Ask Dr. Zoe – How Do I Break Free From Codependency?
How to Move On From the Loss of a Dream
When Life Gives You a New Normal 

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Carolyn still wants to be a dolphin trainer when she grows up, lip-synced her way through most of high school choir, hates following recipes, and thinks her spirit animal is Lucille Ball or Amelia Bedelia. 

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