Your parents’ breakup can hit home especially hard over the festive season as Christmas is traditionally a family time. You will have to navigate a minefield of difficult decisions including who you visit for Christmas lunch, how you avoid upsetting either of them and whether spending time with new partners is going to cause arguments. 

A few days ago Megan came to see me to ask for my advice about how to handle her parents divorce and the effect it was having on her. Her Dad had left her Mum six months ago and had recently met a new woman and they had invited Megan to have Christmas lunch with them. Megan felt sorry for her Mum as she would be on her own and had always made such a fuss about having the family around over the holidays. It was going to be a huge change for her. Megan also knew that her Mum was finding it really hard that her Dad had moved on so quickly and met someone else, not helped by the fact that she was a lot younger too.

It may surprise you that the older you are when your parents break up the harder it can be to adjust and the bigger the shock because it’s all you’ve ever known. This is because our parents are often seen as our rock and no matter how well you get on with them as an adult they will always represent “home” and “security”. They embody all your childhood memories and have been instrumental as a team in bringing you up and forming your values and opinions. So if they decide to split up it can be a difficult adjustment.

Megan was definitely finding it really hard and didn’t want to upset either of their festive plans. She felt happy for her Dad for moving on as she had known he was unhappy for many years. However she was also devastated for her Mum especially as this would be her first Christmas since the family home was sold. It was also hard for Megan as events like selling the family home can have a big impact on adult children too. It feels like you are losing a part of your history. Sometimes adults find change harder to adjust to than children who are often more open and flexible. 

Obviously you know your parents best and can anticipate their reactions better than anyone. So it’s important to trust your instinct and make the right decisions for your personal situation. 

My top 10 tips for coping with your parents’ divorce over Christmas are:

  1. Work out what YOU want to do over Christmas first. Find a plan that you are happy with so you know what would be ideal but be open to being flexible.
  2. Have good communication about plans for Christmas with each parent. Let them know what you would like to do and listen to what they have to say.
  3. Be fair. If they both want you to come for Christmas lunch, suggest that this year you do it with one parent and alternate for the next year. If they live close enough you can always do Boxing Day lunch with the other parent instead.
  4. To diffuse potential arguments do make it clear that you are finding this hard to. Sometimes parents forget their breakup has a ripple effect on their adult kids too.
  5. If you are worried that one or both parents are struggling, find ways to make it easier for them by contacting friends to alert them and to ask if they could help out over Christmas too.
  6. Avoid bad mouthing one parent to another as this will only inflame the situation and not make it better.
  7. Be sensitive to your parents feelings. It will be hard for them too, even if they are putting on a brave face for you.
  8. If one parent has a new partner, and this is hard for the other parent, one way to keep the peace is to consider spending a little less time with them for this first Christmas. As things settle and your parents move on with their lives you can spend more time with new partners. 
  9. Focus on the fact that this can be a good opportunity for your parents to find more happiness. If they weren’t happy in the marriage then it can be the best thing for them. 
  10. Remember you can’t please everyone all the time. Do your best and make sure it works for you too. 

Sometimes couples apart find a new sense of freedom and a zest for life that they didn’t have together. You may find that seeing your parents happier makes up for any sadness about their divorce. 

The New Year is the perfect time for a fresh start and a divorce gives both your parents a chance to redesign their lives just the way they want to.  It’s interesting that the marriage rate for “silver splitters” has been increasing in recent years so don’t be surprised to find your parents moving on with new partners and having a second bite at the cherry!