A Divided Christmas

Christmas with divorced parents. How to help children during the Christmas holiday.

Whenever I am asked what my favorite holiday is, people are astounded that I always say Halloween. I am not into costume parties; I am not a fan of horror movies and I definitely do not participate in the ghost and goblin scene. The reason why I love Halloween, as opposed to Christmas or Thanksgiving, is because it was the only holiday that my parents did not fight over during their divorce.

See, I was 8 years old when my parents got divorced. A product of the 80’s and the only kid in my class who had divorced parents, it was beyond embarrassing and traumatic. What was even worse was our first divided Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I did not want my parents to stay together. I remember my mom crying a lot, I vividly remember my dad packing up his belongings to move out of our family home and my parents fought a lot whenever they were together. I understood why my parents could not remain married. Yet knowing that they needed to divorce each other to be happy did not create the “Happy Holidays” my friends were experiencing.

Our first divided Christmas started with my brother and I waking up at 4:00 a.m. as we sorted through all our gifts from mom and Santa. We then went through our older sister’s stocking to make sure that Santa did not give her better gummy bears than he gave us. At around 6:00 a.m. we tiptoed to our mom’s room to wake her up and let her know that Santa had made his presence known. Tired and exhausted she made her way to the living room, acting surprised at what Santa had brought us. It wasn’t until many years later that I could appreciate my mother’s exhausted state making her way to the Christmas tree to make our Christmas special.

We had our usual morning breakfast, which I still make for my children to this day, and settled in to play with our new toys. After about 30 minutes of playing with my Cabbage Patch Kid, my mom announced that it was time to get ready because our dad would be picking us up soon. I remember not wanting to go. I did not want to meet my dad’s new girlfriend, nor the new half-sister that was born about three (3) weeks prior. I can still hear my mom’s voice as she told us that if we didn’t go to our dad’s house, we would have to give back our gifts to our dad.

I was eight (8) years old. I did not want to give back my toys and remember dragging myself to my room to get dressed. As we waited on the couch for our dad to appear, my sister, brother and I asked mom what she would do for the next few hours while she was alone. With sadness in her eyes but a fake high-pitched cheerleader happy, she told us she would rest, talk with her family and find things to do. I felt guilty for leaving my mom alone on Christmas. My mom, who had been our strength during the divorce, would be alone on Christmas. When dad pulled into the driveway, mom gathered us together for a big hug and told us to be on our best behavior.

We left our mother not knowing what the rest of our Christmas would look like. What occurred next was worse than anything I could imagine. We met my dad’s new girlfriend and our new half-sister. We only stayed with our dad, after feeling guilty for leaving mom, for approximately two hours because my dad’s girlfriend got mad at us for not bringing our new sister a gift. Dad became defensive of us and directed us to pack up our gifts so he could take us home to our mother. I recall my dad fighting with his girlfriend over “ruining our Christmas”.

Children of divorce experience such an array of emotions during what should be the “most magical time of the year”. Feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, happiness, joy, and pain all surround these little ones. I have watched my own children, who have divorced parents, struggle with the holidays. They feel guilty choosing one parent over the other, they do not like divided holidays, and they just want to be able to enjoy Christmas without the guilt they experience knowing that one parent is alone.

I would like to share with you a few tips to help make Christmases not so divided for other children of divorced parents:

  1. Be aware of your child’s emotions and the struggles during this time. Please do not tell your children that their emotions are wrong. Instead, listen and talk with them. Let them express how they feel about their divided family and what they want Christmas to look like for them.
  2. Christmas is not the time to introduce your child to a new significant other. Make arrangements to have your child meet your new girlfriend/boyfriend either before or after Christmas. Christmas is about the child, not about new introductions which can cause extreme feelings that do not coincide with joy and merry.
  3. Incessant questions are not healthy at any time, but especially at Christmas. You should want your children to have a positive and healthy relationship with the other parent. Questioning them about daddy’s “new friend” or mommy’s new “boyfriend” is not healthy and will overshadow the joy of the holidays.
  4. Make custodial exchanges during the holidays as easy on your child as you possibly can.
  5. Embrace old family traditions while you establish new family traditions. You are redefining your family and are able to create what you and your child want it to be.
  6. Enjoy your alone time while your child is with the other parent. Spend time with others that you would like to catch up with, go to the beach and reconnect. Focus on setting New Year’s goals. Read that book you’ve placed on your nightstand and wanted to get to. Go to a “smash room” and unleash your anger if you need to. Yet, when your child returns home, let them feel the peace and comfort of the holiday season.

After returning home from the catastrophe that was Christmas with my dad, my mother of course welcomed us home, made dinner, and sat on the couch with us watching Christmas movies. When the sun went down, we all sat around the Christmas tree, watching the twinkle lights. At that moment, I knew that our family would never be the same, and neither would our Christmases.

Written by Courtney Hardcastle, Law Clerk and Office Manager for the Law Offices of Makupson & Howard, A PC.  

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