Stories & Commentaries
Thoughts and advice for kids of divorced parents— and anyone needing help coping with the holidays.
By Victoria Emilaire
Photo by iStock/Martin Dimitrov
The holiday season use to be my favorite. As a child, I remember being ecstatic because of the food on Thanksgiving and the gifts from Christmas. I also remember those times being the greatest because my entire family would come together and it was always a good time.
After my parents divorced, holidays became something that, in my heart, I looked forward to, but also dreaded. Every year was (and is) different so I always had this fear of something bad happening. Sometimes our parents would split Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sometimes one would keep us longer than the other. Sometimes we spent both holidays with one parent. Sometimes I expected more, other times I accepted that every holiday would be dramatic and filled with more tears and less laughter.
This year as the holidays came around I felt a happiness that I hadn’t felt in a while, but this feeling vanished shortly after some things happened in my family. These strange feelings have lingered. That’s why I decided to write a blog post for “my divorced kids” who may be struggling too.
How to Cope with the Pain During the Holidays
Whoever is reading this, you don’t have to be part of a divorced family to understand. Even though a family may not be cut off or split, it still could be broken and toxic.
But there can be joy too. Over the years, I’ve realized that the holiday is what you make it. Yes, our family is a factor in how we feel and how certain things go, but for the things you can take control of — take it. Below are four things you can control:
1. Expectations: We all set high or low expectations based on situations and people. In this case, there is a general expectation of what the holidays should be like. There is also an expectation in your heart of what the holidays will be like this year based on past experiences. Erase those negative thoughts and make space for new, positive ones. I’ve found myself telling myself that this would be a good holiday season even after my positive feeling vanished. Expect positive, but make sure you’re realistic so you’re not heartbroken if things don’t work out as you’d hoped. For example, I told myself that this holiday season I want my siblings to have no time to dwell on the pain we are experiencing, therefore, whenever we get a chance to laugh, we laugh. I see the impact it’s having on them, especially my sister. Find something that makes you happy (a positive something) and use that to help get your mind off the negative thoughts.
That uncle that teases you every year because you don’t have a boyfriend, expect that and prepare for your response. That gross dish your mom always forces you to eat, brace yourself and think of how you can tell your kids about that awful dish when you get older (no offense, Mom). Do what’s necessary to make your holiday season run smoothly because you deserve to be happy just as much as anyone else is during the holidays.
2. Be open-minded and willing to make new memories. The old days may have been the golden days — or the dark days. Regardless, that is in the past. Certain songs, smells, colors, or even foods may remind you of the past, but when it does don’t dwell on it. How will there be room to make new memories when all your headspace is in the past?
I’m not saying to make a mental blockage — the past is good and helps us to move forward and grow. But sometimes dwelling on things that are emotionally heavy for us can change our mood and outlook at a positive moment. Try to refrain from that.
3. Give yourself time. It’s OK to hate the holidays. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to need a moment to cry or think about the past. It’s OK to talk about how your feeling. It’s OK to laugh through the tears. It’s OK to cry to the point of no speech.
I don’t think people realize that a happy moment for some isn’t a happy moment for all. I know my parents’ divorce affects how my holidays are and how I feel about the holidays. I don’t know if your parents recently divorced, are in the process of divorcing, if your family is cutting you off, if your favorite cousin doesn’t talk to you anymore, or if your family has you labeled as the outcast.
But I can tell you this from my experience: Hiding how you truly feel by telling yourself you’re OK, or you need to be happy so everyone else can have a good time, doesn’t work. It. Does. Not. Work.
Give yourself time to feel how you need to. Talk to a person you trust. But don’t stay in that funk forever. Feel. Accept. Release. Move forward.
4. Find ways to move forward. Holidays may or may not be something you look forward to, but I’ll tell you this: No day is promised. Through the hurt, the confusion, the sorrow, the pain — through the tears and the fake smiles — find your peace. Find your peace in Jesus. Through any storm He is the one person I know that is capable of not only calming it, but fixing the damage after. Let Him give you peace.
Try to refrain from playing the blame game. Everyone is trying to cope through the changes of life. As old as our parents may seem, even they are trying to figure things out. Don’t be too hard on them and don’t be too hard on yourselves. Divorced kids, it’s not your fault. The discombobulation comes with the change of events. Be patient. Things will get better.
I love you all and I truly hope this helps someone. I know what it’s like to be afraid of what the holidays hold. I pray this year will be better for all of you. Don’t be discouraged.
In fact, would you do me a favor? Listen to your favorite Christmas albums, sing your hearts out even if you can’t hold that note, enjoy old traditions, make new traditions. Look around to those in need, help someone else. Just whatever you do, make this holiday special for you.
Comfort from the Word
I find these two Bible passages particularly comforting. I hope you will too.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15).
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
—This is adapted from a blog article on Dear Divorced Kids, a blog providing emotional support and someone to relate to, written by Victoria (Sophie) Emilaire, a young adult living in Maryland with her mom, sister, and brother, who is using her gift of writing to heal and in turn help others heal.