How Co-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.”

A couple of years ago, 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 a BRAND NEW project and was deep into utilizing all my creative juices to develop something truly useful for separating 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, I was keeping my head down and grinding it out.

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 I had” 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 co-parenting 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 they’re coming into town and can’t wait to see the kids, but your co-parent 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 co-parent 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 co-parent 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 in life…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…. instead of 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?

Consider for a moment how life might be different if you just let go a little bit and tried to accept the situation instead of wishing it was different.

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 jazzed about your first Christmas alone. You may wish you had a co-parent 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 nothing you can do to change the current situation, for 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 your 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.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful and relaxing holiday season.


Need a little extra help with co-parenting?  Consider checking out my book PARENTING APART.  It was written to guide you through real-life parenting challenges and give you effective tools for tackling tough co-parenting problems.

View more information about Christina’s book.


  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!