12 Days of Christmas Memories: Child of Divorce

xmas 1985
One of my favorite Christmas presents, circa 1985

Daddy’s car died on that freezing winter day as we headed to the first Christmas in his new house.

He said we’d have to walk the rest of the way.  I was frightened, afraid to fall on the ice.  He carried my sister but couldn’t carry me and stay balanced.  He took my hand and we began walking, watching every step. 

We had to walk only two blocks, but to five-year-old me, it seemed an enormous distance.  The wicked wind whipped through my winter coat.  I couldn’t focus on the cold; I concentrated all my effort on remaining upright, avoiding a crash on the ice.  We didn’t speak—we kept our mouths shut tight against the wind.

We reached his home safely after what seemed an hour of walking, but I couldn’t shake the icy cold.  It seemed to foreshadow the lack of security and stability I feared at his house.

This was the first Christmas since my parents divorced.  I was unsettled, unsure of the new changes to our family traditions. 

When I remember Christmas celebrations with my parents, I remember some happy moments mixed with guilt, pressure, and exhaustion.

Gifts became a guilt source.   Both of my parents gave thoughtful gifts.  But if I visibly enjoyed a gift from Daddy in front of Mommy, she might be hurt.  If I acted more excited about Mommy’s gifts, Daddy might be hurt.  I couldn’t please either one.  I also felt guilty about celebrating.  Mommy couldn’t attend Christmas at Grandpa and Grandma’s anymore and she felt sad.  I didn’t want her to feel sad, but I also wanted to enjoy myself and not feel forced to hide my stories from her.  Christmas inevitably brought feelings of guilt as a child of divorce.

The pressure to be well-behaved and “positive” was enormous.  I kept negative feelings hidden away so I wouldn’t “ruin” anyone else’s Christmas.  When we went to the childhood homes of our parents’ new spouses, I often felt like an outsider, bored and restless.  But I dared not complain because it was an obligation.  I painted on a smile and kept to myself, never sharing negative stories with my parents.  Pressure was a price I had to pay as a child of divorce.

Exhaustion was another cost in my childhood Christmas memories.  Being shuffled around from place to place provoked fatigue and irritation.  I wanted time to enjoy my gifts or interact with extended family before moving on to the next place, and that wasn’t always possible.  I had to stuff my tired, grouchy feelings and keep rolling.  I always felt exhausted once Christmas was over, yet also somewhat relieved when it was finished, because the problems could be pushed forward to the following year.

The good that has come out of those difficult memories is how I’ve become deeply motivated to create a different kind of Christmas for my own family.  I don’t want my children to associate guilt, pressure, and exhaustion with this special time of year.  I want them to associate love, joy, and peace with the season we celebrate Christ’s birth.

Question:  If you are a child of divorce, how did your parents’ split affect your Christmas celebrations?

Blessings to you,  Sarah

P.S. Today is Day 3 of 12 Days of Reader Tips for Christmas Peace.  Be sure to leave a comment on my related Facebook post with your tip!

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