Gray Divorce and the First Holidays


There are many firsts in life—some good, some forgettable, some not so good. If parental divorce barges through our door when we’re adults, that first Christmas can be an emotional challenge that is virtually unparalleled. The announcement and subsequent divorce can leave us reeling.

University of Toronto associate professor Michael Saini lists five feelings that can occur when adult children face gray divorce (divorce that occurs when the children are grown):

  1. Feeling that their childhood was fake
  2. Experiencing loyalty challenges as both parents turn to them for comfort and support
  3. Anxiety about their own relationships
  4. Feelings of isolation and lack of adequate supports
  5. Role boundary problems, as they may not be ready to provide the support to their parents1

For most, holidays and families (for better or worse) are synonymous. But with gray divorce, “family” is no longer a homogeneous word. Mom has her life, Dad has his. But now both expect the adult kids (and their children) to join them as they forge new traditions. The problem is, most of us liked the old ones.

No Regrets by dollen [A,=]427345478_4977dc5129_oThat first Christmas is full of emotions compounded by the unknowns. Can we mention that we sang carols at the enemy’s house? Do we tell the children not to tell Grandma what Grandpa gave them? Is it okay to miss the twenty-year-old eggnog tradition because it reminds one parent too much of the other? How do you handle unexpected tears? The list goes on and many answers are elusive due to the personal nature of each divorce.

But, here are a few things to remember:

  1. It’s okay to grieve their divorce and the accompanying losses. Talk to God, your spouse, an empathetic friend, journal, or take a long walk and talk to yourself, but talk or write about what you’ll miss, what makes you mad, confused, lost, sad, or thankful.
  2. It’s okay to set boundaries with your parents. Communicate in advance that there will be no bashing, denigrating, snide comments or barbs about the other, or martyrdom during the family gathering. This is possible for one day!
  3. It’s okay to acknowledge the elephant in the room—if it’s respectful to those in attendance. Author, Stephanie Staal, summed up the experience when she wrote, “Everyone was comfortable with the extremely uncomfortable situation.”2
  4. It’s okay to have sad moments, and if respectful to those in attendance, say so. After the holiday, do step one again.
  5. Most important, remember what the season is about—the birth of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. But Jesus was not born into the world to remove pain. Shortly before he was to be crucified, he prayed to God, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”3

Jesus doesn’t remove the pain, he gives us the strength to press through it. For those of you facing your first split Christmas, may the unconditional love Jesus offers be your strength this holiday season.


No Regrets by dollen
Nativity, Pixabay

1Natalia Camarena, “Parents’ Divorce Affects Adult Children Too,” Sheridan
Sun (March 18, 2016), Used with permission.
2Stephanie Staal, The Love They Lost: Living with the Legacy of Our Parents’ Divorce (New York: Delacorte Press; Random House, 2000), 203.
3John 17:15, NIV.



Six Helps for Handling Your First Thanksgiving as a Divorced Family

Before the holidays many articles describe the challenges divorced parents face in making the holidays okay for their kids. Do you keep oldIMGP6979 by siti fatimah 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. Forgiveness by Tiffany ScantleburySecond, 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.girl-talk-by-nathan-rupert

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

A Friend for the Tough (and Easy) Times

James Taylor sang:
    You just call out my name, And you know wherever I amswings-girls-talk-by-thaeusalrang
     I’ll come running, to see you again
    Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call
    And I’ll be there. You’ve got a friend1

For adults with divorced parents, when parents still force you to choose sides, you need a friend. When family gatherings include stepparents, ex-steps, potential new steps, and assorted others, you need a friend. When you find out your parents are divorcing after decades of marriage, you need a friend. When stresses in your relationship or marriage send the cold fear of divorce through your soul, you need a friend

Unfortunately, it seems people would rather see the dentist than share about their parents’ divorce with a friend. Between the “dirty laundry” stigma and the fear of the potential pain, we just won’t go there. However, dealing with the years-long and ongoing aftermath of parental divorce is something we shouldn’t handle alone. But don’t share indiscriminately.


We need a confidant
A confidant keeps what you share confidential. Presidents have confidants. Pastors have confidants. Did you know even Jesus had confidants? The Bible records that Jesus told Peter, James, and John, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”1 Jesus separated these three again in the Garden of Gethsemane.2

The person you choose must be one you can confide in, bounce ideas off, lean on, and receive biblical wisdom from. It’s not required that this special person be your best friend. Also, unless your spouse is the ideal candidate, your confidant should be of the same gender. This is because sharing personal things can lower our emotional defenses and cause us to form a bond with the individual. It’s best to avoid this unnecessary risk.

Learning to trust again

Using confidants can be challenging for adult children of divorce, because we must trust them. Unfortunately, earning our trust can be like taking a favorite toy from a toddler—it’s given grudgingly. But, the alternative—keeping the barriers up—means the stress and pain the post-parental-divorce-life can create has no constructive outlet. And this is where many ACD’s find themselves.

The upside of confidants
“A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”3 In taking this step, you’ll find that God, you, and your confidant are a formidable team. Where you are weak, they are strong. Together, you can overcome the divorce-related fears and other issues that block the healthy relationships you desire.

But what are the qualities of a confidant? We’ll explore that next.


1King, Carole, “You’ve Got a Friend,” Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon, Warner Bros. Records Inc.’t. 1971.
2See Matthew 26:36-38
3Proverbs 18:24,NASB

Swings, Girls talk by THaeuSalRang
talk to me my love by Indra Galbo\
man on phone – Thinkstock


Divorce Now or Divorce Later: It Still Hurts the “Kids”

Divorce Sucks! by Addie Willams 50The combination of reading an article on a pair of eighty-year-olds who divorced, being in graduation season which creates empty nests and the temptation to bolt for unhappy spouses, and a recent conversation with an adult whose parents waited until he was grown to split, urged me to offer the article below that was posted this week. It describes the pain adult children feel when their parents divorce later in life (commonly called gray divorce.)

For those who have suffered parental divorce as an adult, this article will assure you that your feelings are normal. I also encourage you to share your thoughts and feelings with God. The Bible encourages us to cast all our cares on God, because He cares for us.

For those parents contemplating divorce, “because the kids are old enough now,” please be courageous enough to see the truth of how it will impact your children.

Click here for the article, “Think grown-up children can’t be hurt by their parents getting divorced? These haunting stories prove you’re WRONG”


Image: Divorce Sucks! By Addie Williams