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Divorce & The Holidays: Beauty in Chaos

Kyleigh Leist
WhiteFlag Outreach Coordinator

It’s every child’s dream to be able to celebrate Christmas not only once, but twice—right? That’s what I thought when my parents got divorced. I assumed holidays would be a breeze. I assumed my brother and I would never be separated on the holidays, and I assumed we would be able to continue all the traditions we did as a family up until the divorce. Boy, was I wrong.

Holidays soon turned into the most stressful time of year instead of the most wonderful. I was constantly trying to juggle seeing both my mom and my dad, and if my time wasn’t given to both of them equally, the disappointment was written all over their faces.

Because I live five states away from my family, traveling home was always a process. A process I so desperately wanted to be an easy one. Who would I be staying with? Can I manage seeing both of them equally? What if all I feel like doing for a few days is laying on the couch, is that okay? Will I see my brother? Instead of enjoying every moment the holidays usually bring, those questions tend to linger in my mind the entire trip.

Before my parents divorced, our holiday traditions were simple. We would spend time with my dad’s extended family a few days before Christmas, we would celebrate with my mom’s side of the family on Christmas Eve, followed by my mom letting my brother and I open ONE strategically wrapped gift, and then Christmas Day was full of mimosas, blueberry pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and Elvis' music.

After the divorce, it became stressful for my brother and I to manage both households while desperately trying to keep the traditions alive. Our Christmas traditions soon turned into lots of driving back and forth between each of their houses, and both of my parents trying to go above and beyond in the gift-giving category to compensate for the divorce. I always felt a sense of guilt when I left one parent’s house for the other. Thinking about how they’re all alone on the holiday for the rest of day took away from being in the moment at the other parent’s house. From personal experience, I figured out quickly just how lonely the holidays can be. Christmas soon became more of an effort and more about becoming an expert juggler than making new traditions and new memories.

Even though the holidays have become a stressful time, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Now, Christmas Eve is still spent with my mom’s side of the family. Christmas morning, bright and early, is now celebrated at my dad’s house, blasting his Elvis music, then quickly traveling back to my mom’s so I can watch the NBA basketball games on her couch with my mimosa. The traditions before the divorce are still there, just altered.

During the holidays, I have learned that going at my own pace is the best way to celebrate. My mental health has thanked me for no longer feeling guilty that I am putting my needs first and living by my own clock. Sure, the houses I travel to get lonely when I am sitting there by myself while my mom makes her new traditions, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have finally found peace in the silence. I have continued to be open to new beginnings, new traditions, and new memories for the holidays, all while partaking in the old ones, just in a different way.

I have found beauty in the chaos during the holidays. I now know that I can talk to others who are feeling the exact same way I am. I now know that my thoughts and feelings during the holidays are valid and do not need to be explained ‒ though, they do need to be talked about. I have learned that holding in the stress and the sadness only takes room away from the happy memories. Talk it out. Know you are not alone. Support others who might be having a hard time with the transition, and always, always, protect your mental health first.


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