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Adult Children of Divorce: Getting Through the Holidays

Food, Family and the Holidays

Something like 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, but there’s a special group of us whose parents didn’t call it quits until we were adults. And with the holidays approaching, it’s a little different in our homes.

When people like me were in school, everyone else’s parents were getting divorced. We couldn’t wrap our heads around what that was like for them. Blake said his parents are fighting over him. Julie says she doesn’t have a whole room to herself at her mom’s house so she argues not to stay over there. Some kids were even shuffled around between maternal and paternal grandparents on weekends. Sometimes there was fighting. Sometimes there was palpable grief.

But in the end everyone got through it.

That time came and went. I finished college and then my parents divorced. All the strife I couldn’t relate to as a child is now part of my life.

Now my parents don’t speak unless they absolutely must. My older brother Pat has schizophrenia and both of my parents spend time with him regularly. If it weren’t for that I’m not sure they would ever talk.

Just because you’re older doesn’t make the divorce any different. All the same schisms I remember hearing about when I was in school are still part of the deal. Whatever happened to, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”?

So what’s my advice to other adult children of divorce? Focus on your own life.

It’s so easy to fall into the role of go-between or try to make everything fair and even, but you have your own future and your own responsibilities to maintain. It’s unrealistic to think you’ll always be able to spend Christmas eve with Pop and Christmas day with Mom. Just because parents split doesn’t mean that you have to. You don’t live with them anymore. You don’t have to spend every other week with the other parent.

Things might be more complicated now, but you didn’t make it that way. You’re only capable of doing so much. As an adult, there are far too many stresses and responsibilities to drop everything to make your parents happy.

How do you deal with ugliness between the folks? As an adult you have much sharper skills for dealing with disagreements, but you’re also not responsible for mediating your own parents. You can’t rush to bury the hatchet and a lot of their grievances are things you never wanted to know.

If one parent won’t stop going on and on about the ex, tell them that you don’t want to hear those things and that it’s hurting your relationship. Ask them to respect those boundaries.

Will they ever be friends again? I know this sounds like a childish question, but my husband’s parents didn’t speak for a decade and now they’re very good friends. His mother is even friends with his father’s girlfriend. It’s easy to become envious. The passage of time heals wounds and that’s happened for a lot of the marriages that ended decades ago, but these fresh ones still have gaping wounds.

Some sage words from my husband: He never thought his parents would be civil to each other, let alone friends.

Hang in there but maintain your self-care and boundaries. You have your own life to live and deep down your parents don’t want to unsettle that.

You may not have the same holiday season that you once had, but as an adult it’s actually a little easier to manage separate celebrations and once your parents get to a better place they’ll be even merrier.

Adult Children of Divorce: Getting Through the Holidays

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Adult Children of Divorce: Getting Through the Holidays. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 Dec 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.