Learning to Navigate the Holiday Season as an Adult Child of Divorced Parents


My parents divorced when I was six.

My parents lived in different states and splitting the holidays literally meant splitting each day in half. Halfway through Christmas Day, I was boarding a plane with an “Unaccompanied Minor” badge and heading south to Florida. Before I knew it, I was sitting in front of Christmas tree #2. Looking out at palm trees and the ocean, I finished Christmas. “Normal” has never been a word I’ve used to describe my childhood. As a child of divorced parents, splitting time for the holidays has been my norm for 22 years. There were always a few bumps along the way- not to mention hurt feelings accompanying the bumps. For the most part though, it “worked out”.

Since adding a set of in-laws and becoming a parent myself, navigating the holidays with my divorced parents has become a cause for worry, lack of sleep, and hurt feelings.

Living in Vermont has afforded the in-laws (my partner’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) the opportunity to see our family on what seems like a daily basis. My family lives farther away; my dad and stepmom split their time between New Hampshire and Florida, while my mom lives in Northern Virginia. I have no siblings, so my in-laws assume that we will stay in Vermont and celebrate every holiday with them. My family is warmly welcome to join any holiday celebrations too, if they so choose.

Many adult children of divorced parents chose to celebrate the holidays at home.
Our carefully chosen tree!

My “side” is split into two halves which in no way can become a whole because my parents do not wish to celebrate holidays together. Kids’ birthday parties are enough time to spend together for the entire year. As a result of the halves, I am forced to determine which side of my family we spend time with during the holidays. I’m like the holiday police, a job for which I did not apply.

Last year, I thought I had Thanksgiving all figured out for the foreseeable future.

We, as a family of four, ventured to Pennsylvania to spend the holiday with my mom and her side of the family. No one from the in-law side gave us too much flak for missing out on their celebration. I thought I had created a new tradition. Ha! I thought wrong. After beginning to discuss this year’s Thanksgiving, I quickly began realizing that if I was going to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, it was going to be a two-man road trip including only me and my one-year-old. This is still a plan in progress…

It seems the only saving grace in this whole season is the fact that my dad and stepmom are flexible. For them, seeing the kids near to the time of an actual holiday works just as well as seeing them on the actual holiday.  We get out our calendars in August and set up times that coordinate with my time off from work and their busy social calendar. They drive up to Vermont with an over-packed car full of presents and I prepare a holiday meal. We revel in the kids’ ability, or inability, to open presents while listening to the excited screeches from their little mouths.

I’ve never been in love with the holidays as a result of my parent’s divorce.

Cutting down a Christmas tree and creating our own holiday traditions.
Our oldest helping Dad.

After becoming a mom, I made a concerted effort to wholly participate in the holiday season. I spend hours at Homegoods, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls looking for the perfect decorations to add cheer to our home. We pick out a Christmas tree as a family, hang up Christmas lights in the boys’ bedrooms, and play holiday music throughout the whole house.

 I’m not sure I will ever get the hang of the holiday schedule. I’m not sure if I will ever avoid hurt feelings or hard conversations in my negotiations with my family. In the midst of a time that family should be spending together, mine seems to be spending it apart and with hurt feelings. I have come to realize while I can’t control everything, I am in charge of how my little family of four feels about the holidays.

My holiday baggage is not, and should not be their holiday baggage.

For everyone who has dealt, or is dealing with this difficult and continuous negotiation, my wish to you for the upcoming holidays is that you can find peace and balance around scheduling!



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