What The Holidays Really Feel Like For Children Of Divorce

While some families were making up perfect Christmas traditions, you were planning split holidays. There’s no room to build traditions when you’re bouncing from house-to-house. Traditions only work if you keep them up year after year. But every year you were somewhere different.

Thanksgiving with one parent, Christmas with the other. Split nights of Hanukkah. Guilt over not spending New Year’s with your family. Being the kid in class who needed ten minutes to explain their holiday plans to the teacher. This is what holidays were like in middle school, when everyone else was talking about their moms baking cookies and their dads making egg nog.

Set featured imageSome kids left for break talking about their ski trip. Their family took a ski trip every year with some other equally-functional family. You had a schedule to stick to instead. You had Christmas Eve with one parent, and Christmas morning with the other. When you’re a child of divorce you learn to schedule things meticulously. Don’t spend an extra day with one parent, the other one will be upset. When you need to go to the other parent’s house at noon on Christmas Day, don’t get into the car at two o’clock. That’s how the fighting starts. Children of divorce know better than to deviate from the plan. Just stick to the schedule, and everything will be fine. No one will get upset. That’s what you’re taught.

The stress that comes with splitting your life between two parents is in full-force around the holidays. When you’re a kid, your parents’ divorce is most exposed from November to January. The planning is so detailed you worry that one slip-up will expose all the cracks in your family that your parents try to cover with presents and a tree that’s even brighter than last year’s.

It only takes one thing going wrong for the system to unravel. During Thanksgiving dinner with one parent, you sneak off to call the other. When Christmas comes around, you worry about the parent who will be left spending the holiday alone. It’s all-consuming when you’re a child because these are your biggest concerns. What is your mom going to do while you’re at your dad’s house for Christmas?

You think it will get easier as you go off to college, as you grow up. It doesn’t. In fact, choosing between your two parents (instead of having them tell you where to go) is almost worse. You’re the only freshman that isn’t looking forward to winter break. How do you divide those five weeks? Who do you go see first? Who do you spend Christmas with? Are you going out on New Year’s, or do you need to appease one of your parents and stay in?

New Year’s is always a guilt trip when you have a single parent. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah: these are all holidays you spend with family. But New Year’s is the friend holiday. It’s the holiday where you kiss someone at midnight, and laugh with your friends while drinking straight from the champagne bottle. But when you have a single parent, all you can worry about is leaving them at home alone on New Year’s. All you can think about is the fact that they gave up everything for you and you can’t even give up one night for them.

When you start dating someone seriously, you don’t know how to share holidays with them. You already split your holidays two ways, where can you fit a third rotation? You get older, and still you worry about those split holidays. You feel guilty about the parent who’s left alone while you’re with the other. Or while you’re with your significant other’s family. You’re in your 20s, or 30s, and are still wondering what you can do to keep everyone satisfied during the holidays. Just once, you’d like to see everyone you love in one room, perfectly content, the way people are supposed to be during the holidays.

Maybe you’ll start your own traditions. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Maya Kachroo-Levine