Radical Acceptance: How parents dealing with divorce or separation can stop being miserable during the holidays

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

The holidays are here, and while I would love to tell you at the McGhee household we got it going on… the truth is the whole Christmas thing on this end is looking a little bleak.

See I’ve got a little confession to make… I have been working away for the past couple of months on developing an online course for separated, divorced and never-married parents.

Exciting stuff, right?

The not so exciting part is my lil “behind the scenes” project has come with some major technical challenges. As a result, here I sit working away at my desk feeling very unprepared, guilty and not so festive while the rest of the world (or so it seems) kicks back to enjoy the holidays.

Sigh… this is not what I had in mind.


For the past week, I’ve been beating myself up with thoughts of… “It shouldn’t be this way,” If only…. peppered with a few, “I just wish…”

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

This is the year the kids 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 happy for it to stay that way.”

Like me, you may spend 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 still 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 important 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 staying focused on what I hadn’t done for Christmas, I was missing out on what I could do which was 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 is 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 year Christmas was going to be different, I found myself feeling more at peace.  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 critical 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 you may 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 used to be 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 even just working on tolerating what you can’t change) gives you the emotional space to respond differently and consider other possibilities.

This holiday season, if you find yourself struggling with a situation that you wish was different. Maybe you feel a little overwhelmed or hopeless about something you just can’t change… consider giving Radical Acceptance a try.  You might be surprised at the difference one small shift can make.

As for me… I’m off to spend some time with my family and see how we can make this very different Christmas memorable.

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

Wishing each of you  and yours a peaceful and relaxing holiday season.




  1. Free at last on September 27, 2019 at 11:12 AM

    Thank you for your article. I am separated from my husband after almost 39 years of marriage. My husband has wounds from his childhood and I have tried to get him to go to counseling with me throughout our marriage to no avail. I tried to keep the dysfunction to a minimum our whole married life for our three sons (now grown). My middle one said I hid it well and he had a great childhood. After many instances of horrendous insensitivity on my husband’s part, I finally got to a breaking point. I was dying because of this emotionally empty relationship. I had to do everything as he would not. He would have lived like that forever. We have three grandchildren and the holidays are yet to come. My oldest son seems to hold me responsible, even though he knows the problems that were present. My middle one doesn’t want to talk about it and my youngest son seems to be the most understanding as he has seen more in recent years than the other two. They are all in their thirties. I am very willing to step aside during the holidays and let my husband be there (since they seem to feel sorry for him and seem to think he needs more love and compassion than I) . I can see my grandchildren another time and the actual date is not that big a deal to me as I treasure relationships more. My boys seem to see that this is a result of my husband’s unwillingness (inability) to accept his responsibility in the continued break down of a fragile relationship,but still act like I am somehow to blame. I simply decided that I did not have to live in this miserable excuse for a marriage any longer.. I am pleasantly surprised at the peace I feel now that I do not have to live with my husband any longer.
    I choose not to be bitter – and I am not.
    I cannot change the way my sons feel. We will be having conversations about it, and I hope, have better relationships because of it. My husband will have to decide for himself if he wants a life of surface relationships or deep emotional connection. I hope he chooses the latter.

  2. Anonymous on December 24, 2018 at 12:17 PM

    I really love your posts. I can so relate to this one. This is my first Christmas ever without me waking up with my children on Christmas morning. My ex and I live States apart. Last year I flew the kids on Christmas Day to their fathers city just so I got to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with them. I realized flying on Christmas Day takes the joy out of Christmas for them. So we are switching Christmas Eve and Christmas every day.
    I just flew them to the airport where we exchange. I have 10 hours to spend in a closing at 5 pm airport.
    But, I didn’t shed tears this year even though I get to exchange the kids with the mistress during our marriage.
    Also this Christmas I didn’t buy one gift for my children. I am struggling financially. My family luckily pulled through for me.

    It is hard. It shouldn’t be like this. My thoughts are, “how can I make this best for the kids”, and that typically prevents me from crying my eyes out and punching out my ex and the mistress.

    I’m alone! In an airport! Christmas Eve! Alone on Christmas! But I know my kids want to see their daddy (I think) and that keeps me together.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Christina McGhee on December 24, 2018 at 4:18 PM

      First, my heart goes out to you, holidays can be so tough. Thanks so very much for sharing your story. I know there are lots of other parents out there struggling with similar issues and even though it doesn’t change things, I hope it helps a little to know you’re not alone.

      Sounds like to me that you’ve already given your kids one of the best gifts you could ever give them, a stress-free holiday where they don’t have to worry about dividing their time. I know it must have been really hard to put them on that plane. Huge kudos to you for doing it anyway.

      Wherever you are, I hope you will take some time for yourself and recharge. As parents we often forget to use our alone time constructively and do thing for oursleves. Wishing you lots of peace and joy today as well as thoughout the New Year!


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