Dealing with heartache during the season of joy
Around this time every year, a familiar sense of dread sneaks in, making itself at home in the back of my mind. The holidays are coming, and I am already trying to figure out how to fairly divide our time between our families. Not just mine and my husband’s, but between my own parents, as well.
You see, I am a statistic. I am the 1 in 2 children in America who see their parents divorce by age 18.
I am from a broken home.
As a kid, I read books about kids whose parents were divorced. I read about two Christmases, two bedrooms, double vacations. It sounded so cool!
As an adult of a broken home, I now know it’s anything but. The pain and heartache that are the results of a broken home are, as one friend put it, “a never-ending hell.”
Thinking back to the time of my parents’ divorce, I remember:
● the mind-numbing pain of watching my whole world crumble around me
● waking up praying it was all a horrible nightmare, only to realize that it wasn’t
● feeling sick to my stomach for days and weeks on end
● watching the devastation and pain around me, utterly helpless to fix it and hopeless that it could ever be any better
● struggling with divided loyalties
● dealing with bitterness and anger
Then came the holidays. And with them, a whole new set of feelings to process:
● the expectation to carry on like everything was normal and okay
● struggling to fairly divide my time between both parents
● crushing guilt at one parent being left alone
● the pain of remembering that it wasn’t always this way
I’m now going on 12 years of celebrating every holiday at least twice.
For the first three years as a single teenager, and the next five as a married woman, I cried. Every. Single. Holiday. Usually, my tears came while driving from house to house to celebrate multiple Christmases.
It was so painful to adjust to this new, weird reality.
Someone once told me divorce is similar to a death in many ways. As I mourned my broken home, my “normal,” I realized how true this is. And as with a death, the mourning is even more pronounced during holidays and special occasions.
So why bring all this back up? Why face these emotions again? Why run the risk of crying more tears over old hurts?
First, to let others know that they aren’t alone in dreading the holidays. If you’re struggling to feel peace on earth under the weight of a broken home —no matter how long it’s been—I’m with you.
Second, I read a book during my parents’ divorce that was incredibly impacting to me. Not because our stories were the same, but because someone else had experienced all the same feelings I was. To see someone else put those feelings into words gave credibility to my own. I purposed long ago that if sharing my painful experiences would help someone else, I would choose to face the pain every time.
And third, but maybe most importantly: I’m now on the other side of the fresh heartache that comes from a broken home.
Am I completely happy with its reality now? No. There is still a nagging sense of “what should have been” standing as a shadowy vignette around the reality of what is.
But I’ve learned to cope. To make the best of the hand I’ve been dealt.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and time doesn’t “heal” the pain of being a child of divorce, the product of a broken home. I know the pain of divorce because I lived through it. I don’t have any platitudes or quick fixes. I wish so much that I did.
What I can tell you is that time has brought with it forgiveness — the ability to accept what is without allowing grief for the past to rob joy from the present. The hole isn’t healed. But the edges are less jagged, hurt a little less when brushed by memory.
A few things still help me. And maybe they’ll help you:
1. You didn’t create your family’s circumstances. It’s not your fault.
2. You can’t change your family’s circumstances. That’s not your fault either.
3. Guilt and shame are normal feelings, but they aren’t helpful. And they don’t have to be yours to bear. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1 KJV).
4. Child of divorce or not, all family dynamics are messy. No one has the perfect family. Even kids whose parents stayed together can have wounds from chaos and conflict. We all just do the best we can with what we have. We love as much as we can. Respect what we can. And do our best to not repeat the negative things we’ve seen and experienced.
5. Reach out for help. Talk to your pastor or pastor’s wife about your struggles, or a friend who’s been through it. Avoidance is not an effective or permanent coping mechanism. The sooner you deal with what you’re feeling, the sooner you can begin to heal and move past it.
Thankfully, during one particularly tough spot during the divorce, God reminded me of this promise: And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me (1 Corinthians 12:9).
There are no shortcuts around the pain of adjusting to your new normal. It won’t be easy, and it definitely won’t be pain-free. But you MUST walk through it.
Then one day, you’ll wake up and realize that the crushing pain is gone. That you can breathe again. And that your situation may not be fixed, but YOU are.
If your holiday season brings you more grief than goodwill, know that you aren’t alone. I’ve been there. Not only have I been there and made it through, but God has strengthened me every step of the way.
And I promise, He will do the same for you.