Divorce has made the holidays more stressful, at our house. This week, Christmas has shown up on the radar along with the angst that goes with it. I won’t beat around the bush. Holidays, for children of divorce, are just plain hard.
I remember it from my own growing up years; the stress of where I would be and when.
To this day, figuring out who we’re going to get to visit and who we’re going to miss is still an ordeal. My husband had the same experience, so it’s a wonder that we get through the holidays with an ounce of sanity left!
With reminders of the coming season in every store, it wasn’t surprising when our youngest sat up, just as I was about to turn out his light, and said, “Mom, I wish Christmas were like it is in the movies”.
I took the bait.
“Why is that, buddy?”
I half expected him to say something about great gifts or fancy holiday trips, but, as per usual, I was thinking way too shallow for him.
“The way everyone is. They’re all joyful. Nothing is dark and sad. Even the snow is clean.”
Sometimes, I hate movies.
They show such a stark contrast to our lives that real joys can pale in comparison with their pseudo-joy.
He didn’t specifically say so, but I know Christmas holidays are particularly stressful for him, as a child of divorce, being split in half between our house and his dad’s.
Despite the inevitable comment about kids of divorce being ‘doubly blessed’, most kids with two homes experience great disappointment around the holidays.
(Who started this ‘doubly blessed’ thing, anyway? Divorce is rarely a blessing, especially for the kids involved.)
Anyway, kids experience their own disappointment at missing things they don’t want to miss. (Our son never wants to miss the candlelight service on Christmas Eve, but he does, every other year.) Even more stressful is enduring the disappointment of other people who want them to be places they simply cannot be.
As a mom, it’s incredibly hard to stand by helplessly as your child navigates something unpleasant that is completely out of their control. So, I decided to write a list of ways to help our kids deal with the holiday pressure that comes with their parents’ divorce.
It turned out to be a very short list.
I don’t have a vast array of ideas about creating the best co-operative visitation schedule for your child or how to bring ex-spouses to the same Christmas dinner table, though, I’m sure those lists are out there.
My focus was on a balm for your child’s heart. I came up with only one.
The one powerful tip to help your child through this holiday season, is this:
Teach them the difference between peace and happiness, and show them where their peace comes from.
In a blog post inspired by Dr. Martin Seligman, Anuschka Rees writes that the three sources of happiness are pleasure, challenge and meaning.
Ms. Rees article implies that, if our children aren’t able to find pleasure, challenge, or meaning in the upcoming holidays, then they will be unable to be happy. And I think she is right.
I can’t tell you how many holiday seasons I endured after my parents’ divorce that were short on pleasure, challenge and meaning and long on stressful situations. Not super happy.
In an interview posted on DesiringGod.org, John Piper says: “So peace happens when anxieties are removed. Peace is the condition of the heart when anxiety and fear and conflict are not troubling the heart.”
Clearly, peace is the preferable option because it doesn’t say that the difficult circumstances be removed, but that the feelings about the circumstances be removed. That is do-able, with practice and faith.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds.”
Holidays would be very different for our kids if the peace of God were guarding their hearts and minds, minimizing the anxiety, fear and conflict they feel.
You’re not going to be able to coach them out of the difficult circumstances, but you can coach them out of some of the stressful feelings by directing them to peace with the help of some specific Bible verses.
Dr. Charles Stanley said, “My task is to believe the promises.” This is the task of taking ‘every thought captive to Christ’ (2 Cor 10:5).
That’s exactly what will help your children this holiday.
Teach them to take on the task of believing the verse mentioned above and those that follow this post. And feel free to add a few of your own that you know will suit your particular child.
Prayer is Not a Magic Wand
Praying through scripture verses might feel like a magic balm, providing immediate relief to your child. Or it might feel more like they’re convincing themselves.
Either way, the circumstances definitely aren’t going away miraculously, and prayer, even if it’s hard to ‘feel’ is the strongest tool they have.
Best to start teaching them how now.
I’ve created four printable bookmarks with the following verses to help your child take them to heart. They are not, however, Christmas themed as they’re useful for relieving anxiety any time of year.
2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
1 John 4:4
“…the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
1 Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Another Great Verse for Children of Divorce – Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
Dr. Martin Seligman (THE positive psychologist), http://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/
Anuschka Rees, http://into-mind.com
John Piper, http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-s-the-difference-between-peace-and-joy