Split families: what it means for holidays

Children of divorce navigate challenging dynamics

Julia Herman, Staff Reporter

A lit-up Christmas tree with a tear through it
Photo Illustration by Blake Dahlin

The December holiday season is depicted in the movies and commercials as being bright and cheery. They usually show scenes of families sitting together with smiles on their faces by a Christmas tree.

Families tend to be the center of all holiday traditions, spending time and celebrating with one another.

The reality is that for many in America, family situations tend to be more layered and complicated then what is displayed in the media.

According to the American Community Survey, less than 46% of children still live with both of their parents by the time they turn seventeen due to divorce or separation.

“Being a child of divorce is super hard and not talked about enough, especially surrounding the holidays,” student Rachel Wilson-Bates said.

Children of divorce are left to manage the fragmented family dynamics, which is only exacerbated by holidays

Student Reyna Camarena has only been through one holiday since her parents’ divorce in January, 2018.

“It’s super lonely and sad because it feels like its just my dad and my siblings and me alone on the holidays when we have been so used to having my uncles, aunts and cousins over from my dad’s side — but now it’s not like that anymore,” Camarena said.

When Camarena’s mom left, the rest of her family left, including her father’s side too. The holidays are a difficult time for her because she remembers what it was like before.

The holidays, for many families, is a difficult time that they are just trying to get through.

Even six years after his parents’ separation, student Joseph Avila still has strange feelings that come along with the holidays.

Avila’s parents still celebrate Christmas together and, for the most part, they get along for the sake of their kids. However, there is still that worry over what could happen.

“I am sometimes anxious around the holiday season because I’m afraid that my parents will fight over little things, but when they don’t, things are good enough for me,” Avila said.

Finding contentment with the difficulty in the holiday season was something that student Rachel Wilson-Bates struggled with also while growing up.

Bates’s parents divorced when she was eight years old and, even after twelve years, there is some difficulty in finding complete joy in the holidays because of the relationship between her parents.

“Every holiday since then, until I was in high school, was awfully hard — as is the experience with most children of divorce,” Bates-Wilson said.

For most children that have divorced parents, their holidays get split. For some, they spend half of the day with one parent and the other half with the other. For some, they have to choose who they spend it with.

For Wilson-Bates, she had to alternate which parent she was going to spend the holiday with every other year until she turned 18 — which, ultimately, became frustrating due to her strained relationship with her father.

“As I got older, every holiday got increasingly frustrating,” Wilson-Bates said. “I never wanted to spend time with my dad, and the holidays meant a lot to me since we all loved them so much before the divorce. So, spending them in an unhealthy environment was painful.”

For some students with divorced or separated parents, being away from home leading up the holiday makes it easier, and for some, they find it harder.

For senior Shelby Perkins, her parents divorced when she was in high school so, initially, she found herself having a lot of hurt feelings surrounding the holiday time due to the strained relationship between her parents.

“It has been much easier for me when I am away at college because I don’t have to think as much about what is going on back home which has been a nice break for me since high school,” Perkins said.

Student Rachel Regner shares similar feelings. Since college, she feels she is now more independent and in control of her choices.

“I think it is easier now that I am in college because I am an adult and don’t have to follow any visitation schedule anymore. I can go where I want when I want,” Regner said.

For other students, such as Camarena, it is especially difficult now to be away from her dad and brother at college during the holidays, due to her associating Christmas as being a time meant to spend with family.

“College is more friend oriented. I can celebrate the holidays with my friends, but it’s just not the same as having the family there,” Camarena said.