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.



“Love Triangle” and the Gift of Grieving Togetherness

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 window1
Then I run to her. Wrap my arms, around her skirt. And I cry for him. Out the window1

looking-out-the-window-2-by-carol-munroThis 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 Christmas3 fill your ears at the coffee shop only to remind you your home dissolved years ago. However, as Divorce Sucks! by Addie Willams 50the 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 I4

Forgiveness by Tiffany ScantleburyLord, even though Mom did a great job with Christmas, it wasn’t the same without Dad. I really missed him playing his favorite Christmas music.

  • 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 KentBuck 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