How parents dealing with divorce or separation can stop being miserable during the holidays – Divorce & Children


“Pain in life is inevitable, suffering is optional… even during the holidays.”

Just last year, here at the McGhee household, we were having a pretty dismal December… TBH, the whole Christmas thing, was looking awfully darn bleak.

See… around that time, I was working away on developing a BRAND NEW online course for separated, divorced, and never-married parents.

Exciting stuff, right?

The not so exciting part was my lil “behind the scenes” project had come with some major technical challenges and hard deadlines. As a result, there I was on the brink of Christmas working away at my desk feeling very unprepared, guilty, and not so festive. While the rest of the world (or so it seemed) kicked back to enjoy the holiday season.

No decorations had been put up, presents hadn’t been bought, no pre-holiday baking or prepping of any kind, it was just plain pitiful and so NOT what I had in mind.



The weeks leading up to Christmas were miserable. I spent A LOT of time beating myself up. Instead of sugarplums dancing in my head, thoughts of… “It shouldn’t be this way,” If only…. peppered with a few, “I just wish” took over.

And that’s the way it is with the holidays for lots of us, especially when you’re coparenting out of two homes after a divorce. Things often aren’t the way we think they should be or the way we want them to be.

Maybe this is the year your children are with the other parent, and you’re spending your first post-divorce Christmas alone.

Your parents just called to say their coming into town and can’t wait to see the kids, but your coparent refuses to adjust the schedule, even a little bit.

The children you once cuddled and adored, now don’t want to talk to you. And if they do… all you hear is “I don’t want to see you, just leave me alone. AND your coparent is perfectly happy for it to stay that way.”

Like me, on that not so festive Christmas, you may be spending a lot of time telling yourself…

“This isn’t what I signed up for, it shouldn’t be this way.”

“I wish my Ex would just be reasonable.”

“If only my kids knew the truth.”

It’s a bitter pill to swallow when things aren’t the way we want them to be. Although we know deep down we probably can’t change the way things are, most of us have a difficult time letting go. Instead, we tend to put a lot of mental and emotional energy into wishing they were different.

The only problem is… staying in that place keeps you stuck and miserable.



And that’s where Radical Acceptance comes in…

Radical Acceptance is a process of accepting things as they are instead of how you want them to be… you might think of it as

“It is what it is, whether I like it or not.”

When I talk to kids, I tell them that there are basically two kinds of problems…Problems you can fix and problems you can’t fix. 

Just because you can’t fix a problem doesn’t mean you can’t change how you feel about it.

When you get more focused on the way things should be…. than the way they actually are, that’s when feelings of hopelessness, resentment, guilt, or anger start creeping in.

You aren’t accepting reality, you’re actually fighting against it.

And that my friend is suffering… pure misery, plain and simple. 

But being miserable…. isn’t your only option.




When things aren’t the way you want them to be…here are two critical questions to ask yourself.

First…What is it costing me to stay focused on what I can’t change?

Case in point… for me, by choosing to stay focused on what I hadn’t done for Christmas, I was missing out on what I could do to make the season meaningful in a different way. I also wasn’t doing a very good job of enjoying what I had…time with my daughter, who was home from college.

The second part of Radical Acceptance involves asking yourself….

  • What would it take to tolerate or make peace with this situation that I don’t like?
  • How would life be different if I let go just a little bit and tried to accept the situation for what it is?

Once I decided to accept that this Christmas was going to be different, I found myself feeling more at peace. Instead of sulking, I decided to focus on enjoying time with my family and making this very different Christmas memorable. Keep in mind, I still didn’t like the way things were, but letting go of being miserable helped me to shift my focus and explore other options.



Which brings me to another important point…. Radical Acceptance doesn’t mean things have to stay the way they are. It only means you ACCEPT the way things are for now.

You can always have hope.

So maybe you’re still not be jazzed about your first Christmas alone. You may wish you had an Ex that would be more considerate and flexible. You might even desperately long for things to go back to the way they were with your kids.

However, by accepting that there’s not anything you can do to change the current situation right now, you’ve taken the first step towards ending the cycle of suffering.

While it’s not an easy thing to do… letting go or trying to tolerate what you can’t change, gives you the emotional space to explore other options. You can choose to respond differently and consider other possibilities.

This holiday season, you too might find yourself struggling with a situation that you wish was different. Maybe you feel a little overwhelmed or perhaps hopeless about something you just can’t change. When those feelings pop up, I hope you’ll consider giving Radical Acceptance a try. You might be surprised at the difference one small shift can make.  

PS – If you have a holiday story about something you’ve radically accepted, please share below. I’d love to hear about it!

Wishing you and yours a peaceful and relaxing holiday season.



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