Your high school graduation was long ago. Okay, not that long ago, but back then having parents (who could barely speak to each other) smiling together in graduation pictures was bizarre. But you were young (or numb) and treated it as an annoyance, not life changing.
However, twenty-five years have passed, and now your child’s graduation is coming. Planning for the big event is goes well until the Ghost of Graduations Past shows up.
A slideshow of memories flash through your mind. There’s the embarrassment when your boyfriend’s parents met your dad, mom, and her husband. They’re all smiles, but the awkwardness felt like a steel ball in your stomach. Of course, their smiles later melted into glacial stares resulting in social courtesy so strained, it sent you scurrying from your party to somewhere less tense. It was “no big deal” at the time, but now anger brews over the unfairness you feel being forced into a position like that.
The specter’s next memory is of “the call”. The one responsible for the tepid relationship between you and your dad. The conversation announcing how, because you were 18 and new priorities had arisen, no college money was coming. The Ghost’s work is done now. All you can think about is how hard it was to get through college and how unfair it felt.
Now it’s happening again!
No need for the Ghost of Graduations Future to show you how your child’s event is going to play out. Dad with wife number two, Mom with current boyfriend, and step dad number one have accepted the invitation your child sent them. You know what’s going to happen, because it’s happened already. The question is, are you upset because of your discomfort today, or triggers from 25 years ago?
Triggers remind us of past events, but create an emotional response in the present. The frustration of our graduation creates “rose colored glasses” through which we see our child’s graduation. We project our experience onto their event. This can hide the real reasons we’re more quick-tempered as the event approaches.
Many of us deny we’re angry about events in the past, but words like “frustrated”, and “annoyed” are close cousins to anger. So, what can we do if graduation triggers are producing anger in our lives?
- Acknowledge this graduation is reminding you of your own. Stop pretending it’s something else.
- Identify specific issues you were upset about then, but didn’t share with anyone. Write them down if possible.
- Pray about them with God. The Psalmist wrote, “I pour out my complaint before Him.” (Psalm 142:2, NLT)
- Share them with your spouse or a close friend.
- Enjoy your child’s graduation. Regardless of how everyone acts, try to look at the graduation festivities through your child’s eyes. They’re probably oblivious to the drama.
- Meet with someone after the graduation and share your thoughts and emotions. Talking about it is a powerful way to avoid building up anger and anxiety.
Christmas has passed, but gift giving needs to continue. Start with the gift of hope. This month many adult children of divorce are contemplating what they swore they’d never do to their children—filing for divorce.
This is not a sudden whim. Months or years of feeling unloved, disrespected, or fearful they aren’t good enough to keep their spouse, or tired of arguments that raise fearful memories from childhood, have combined with the stresses of life to squeeze out any hope.
Satan whispers “things will never change” and they think, “Now I see why Mom divorced Dad.” “Now Dad’s leaving makes sense.” However, few want to ruin Christmas, so January comes, and the call is made.
These precious individuals need the gift of hope and you can help.
- Be a godly ear for them to talk to. You’d be surprised how many people file for divorce without talking to anybody.
- Watch their kids on a weekend night so the struggling couple can have time together.
- Buy them tickets to a marriage retreat. The Love and Respect conference and Weekend to Remember getaway weekends are excellent. For marriages in serious trouble, Retrouvaille and Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored Marriage Intensive Experience are proven tools that can help.
- Review and have them review our Considering Divorce page. Even those with divorced parents rarely understand the gravity and lifelong consequences of this drastic action.
- PUSH! Now is not the time for timidity. Too often I hear, “Well, I don’t want to rock the boat by interfering.” THE BOAT IS SINKING! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by offering tools and hope to the hopeless.
- The Bible says, “pray without ceasing”1 and that, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”2 Pray for your friend, family member, or coworker’s marriage. Pray for protection from Satan’s attacks of doubt, fear, hate, and selfishness. Pray works!
It’s the biggest month for divorce calls and the lawyers know it. Let’s work together to thwart more divorces by giving the gift of hope this new year.
11 Thessalonians, 5:17, ESV
2 James 5:16b, NLT
Praying woman hands by Long Thiên
Sleep in heavenly peace…sleep in heavenly peace.1
When I hear adults with divorced parents describe Christmas and families, heavenly peace rarely tops the list. Hassle, aggravating, sad, confusing, disappointing, draining, and annoying all make the list, however.
A popular phrase is, “Well, we have to go here, then we have to go there, then we have to go there...,” and it’s always preceded by a heavy sigh. Christmas brings to the forefront all of our divorce-related losses.
But if we’re not careful, the pain of loss becomes a dark secret I’ve heard multiple times—I hate Christmas. Maybe we don’t say it out loud, but it floats around our mind. Unfortunately, our real heart’s cry is for a peaceful holiday. If parents could just get along…
So if you’re secretly waiting for Christmas to be over, I encourage you to revisit the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of the Prince of Peace.
The one who brings true peace
1) Peace was in Jesus’ character description before he was born.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”2
2) When Jesus was born, peace was in the good news the angels proclaimed:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”3
3) Jesus is peace and desires to give us peace.
Jesus said, “”I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”4
Is peace really possible?
Regardless of how frustrating things may get with spouses, parents, stepparents, in-laws, ex-in-laws, siblings, ex-siblings and the extended family, Jesus offers His peace in the craziness. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”5
God wants to give you the gift of peace—peace in your heart, peace in your mind, peace in your spirit—not the peace the world gives, but true peace that only God can give through His son Jesus.
Click here to learn how you can accept the gift of heavenly peace God offers. It may not make the infighting, choosing sides, unforgiveness, and other fractured-family dynamics go away, but you will have supernatural peace amidst it all.
My prayer for you is you’ll receive the wonderful gift of peace from Jesus; not just for Christmas, but for all of the new year!
“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way.”6
1Silent Night, Franz Xaver, Joseph Mohr
2Isaiah 9:6. ESV
3Luke 2:14 ESV
4John 14:27 NLT
5John 16:33. NIV
6 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV
Start of Bethlehem Nativity by Garrett W
Peace Ornament by John Attebury
I don’t move in country music circles so I’m late to the party when it comes to the song “Love Triangle” by Raelynn. The song gives voice to a childhood perspective of her parents’ divorce. For me, two phrases that describe our dilemna of loss stand out:
“Then I run to him, Big hug, jump in. And I cry for her, Out the window”1
“Then I run to her. Wrap my arms, around her skirt. And I cry for him. Out the window”1
This conflict is reminiscent of Elizabeth Marquardt’s words in her book Between Two Worlds:
“I missed my mother and father terribly when I was separated from one of them—and I was always separated from one of them.”2
Feel familiar? The Christmas season brings this loss to a head for many adults with divorced parents. It’s a time when togetherness oozes from every commercial and show. Songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”3 fill your ears at the coffee shop only to remind you your home dissolved years ago. However, as the clouds of sadness move in we have a choice; run away and deny the clouds exist, or turn towards them and feel the loss. After years of denial, I finally did the latter.
Accepting the gift of grieving
I used busyness as a Band-Aid for making it through the Christmas holiday, but a few short years ago, I decided to embrace the loss.
- First, I admitted I missed having my dad at Christmas…a lot.
- Second, I allowed the sadness to come. As a guy, crying is not my thing, but holding back tears when a Christmas movie triggered my thoughts of post-divorce Christmases was energy draining. Allowing the tears to come was cleansing and energy boosting. Who knew? (other than the female half of the human race.)
- Then I took my pain to the Lord. I found praying specifically about what I missed very helpful. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock (Jesus) that is higher than I”4
- Next came focusing God’s blessings—my wife, my kids, my home, our holiday traditions, and so much more.
- The last thing I did to embrace the loss was commit to strengthening my marriage so my kids would never have to choose between Mom and Dad. Taking in a marriage seminar, reading books, listening to teachings all help. See our resource page and audios and videos for many marriage strengthening resources.
This process wasn’t easy. The first couple Christmas seasons were actually worse. But with persistence and lots of prayer an amazing thing happened. The Lord took the sting out of the loss, and I was able to fully enjoy Christmases. It turned out, grieving was a wonderful gift!
1Nicolle Anne Galyon, Racheal Woodward, Jimmy Robbins. Love Triangle, 2016 © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group
2 Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds, (NY, NY: Crown Publishers, 2005), 8.
3Kim Gannon ,Walter Kent, Buck Ram, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, 1943, Decca Records.
4Psalm 61:2b, KJV
Looking out the window 2 by Carol Munro
Divorce Sucks! by Addie Willams
Forgiveness by Tiffany Scantlebury
Before the holidays many articles describe the challenges divorced parents face in making the holidays okay for their kids. Do you keep old traditions or start new ones? Should you let them be with your ex, or have the kids at home?
But what about those who are approaching Thanksgiving and Christmas with divorced parents for the first time?
The emotional turmoil new adult children of divorce experience is great, and no one seems to understand. You don’t even understand, but that’s okay. Here are six steps that aren’t cure alls, but can lay the groundwork for holidays that aren’t horrible:
1) Acknowledge the pain. Let’s face it, most of you didn’t want this outcome. It’s important to fess up that you have sorrow, grief, frustration, anger, disappointment, fear, disgust, apprehension, and a host of other feelings because of your parents’ divorce—even if it was anticipated.
2) Tell someone about the pain. First, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”1 Pray to God and tell Him what’s on your mind—the good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly. God can handle it, and He wants to help. Second, talk it out with your spouse or close trusted friend. Verbalizing your feelings can really help to ease your frustrations.
3) Go into the holiday with a plan. Where will you spend the holiday, with who, when, and why? Remember, this is your holiday too. In trying to please parents—which is now infinitely more complicated—we lose ourselves causing bitterness, anger, and resentment. Is this the year to stay at home or go to your spouse’s parents for Thanksgiving dinner? What is best for you? As the stewardesses say on the plane, when emergencies happen, put your oxygen mask on first.
4) Remember everyone is hurting. Like a pebble in a lake, the divorce-ripples affect a lot of people. Siblings, grandparents, kids, even your spouse’s parents and siblings are all caught in this storm. Author and ACOD, Stephanie Staal, says it well, “everyone was comfortable with the extremely uncomfortable situation.”2 Tempers may be short, tears may flow, and tension may be high, but remember, everyone is hurting—even those with smiling faces. And most haven’t acknowledged or shared their pain.
5) Debrief after the holiday. Within a week, talk through how things went with your spouse or close friend. Grab a coffee somewhere and share your thoughts and emotions. If it was terrible, okay, or somewhere in-between, tell them how and why. Sharing greatly reduces bitterness, anger, and resentment that can taint us and our relationships.
6) Keep the Thanks-giving in Thanksgiving. Even in this difficult time, you have much to be thankful for. Create a list of the ways God has blessed you this year. Keep it near,and read it regularly. It will remind you to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”3
Do you have something that worked for you? Please share it as a reply below. Thanks!
11 Peter 5:7, NLT
2 Stephanie Staal, The Love They Lost: Living with the legacy of Our Parent’s Divorce, (NY, NY: Delacorte Press, 2000)
31 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV
IMGP6979 by siti fatimah
Forgiveness by Tiffany Scantlebury
Girl talk by Nathan Rupert
Many adult children of divorce (and their spouses) are networked into a stepfamily. Stepfamilies can add layers of complications to relationships and holiday dynamics.
Doing better than “surviving the holidays” begins with understanding what’s really going on. This requires separating fact from fiction. Terry Clark-Jones just posted a strong article titled “Dispel Stepfamily Myths.” She lists ten common stepfamily myths and corresponding truths.
Another organization that offers excellent information about stepfamily dynamics and how to incorporate them successfully is Ron Deals’ Smart Stepfamily ministry. His book and ministry offer solid, truthful, real, and biblical help for all those who are trying to make the stepfamily thing work.
Deep down, our desire is for a family that has “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”1 Seem impossible? “With God all things are possible.”2 Committing your ways to God and reviewing these resources can be a strong step toward enjoying the holiday season this year!
1Galatians 5:22-23, NLT
2Matthew 19:26, NIV
Stepfamily Cartoon by Dorthy B. Torres from stepfamilyrochester.org