Focus on the Family by Jim Daly

Nasty Divorce Invites Ugly Feelings at Christmastime

Q: I went through an ugly divorce earlier this year. It's been very painful for both of my children as well. They're angry and have been dreading the possibility that their dad might ask them at the last minute to spend some of their Christmas break with him. What can I do?

Jim: Coming from a broken home myself (before being orphaned), I know well that divorce doesn't just tear couples apart. It can drive a wedge between children and their parents as well. And there can be plenty of anger to go around, which impacts all concerned.

Here are a few ideas from our counselors. First, encourage your children to express their hurt or angry feelings. Don't try to correct them. Just give a listening ear. If they're uncomfortable speaking to you, help them find other outlets for their emotions, such as journaling, music or art.

The second idea could be the most important: Model genuine forgiveness toward your ex-spouse (easier said than done, I know). If you're angry, your behavior could be confirming every negative thought your children have. Try to communicate a tone about the absent parent that will make it easier for your kids and ex-spouse to draw closer instead of further apart. For the sake of your kids, if you must voice negative feelings about the divorce, express them to someone else, not the children.

Finally, if necessary, find a third party who can help your kids work through their feelings. If you're not capable of filling that role yourself, set up an appointment with a pastor or a counselor.

If you feel it would be helpful to speak with one of our staff counselors, call us at 1-855-771-HELP (855-771-4357). Or visit to find a therapist in your area.

Q: My wife and I got married last spring. We wanted to have our first Christmas as just us, and our families reluctantly agreed this time. But we just found out we're expecting. Once the baby comes, I'm sure every year will bring pressure from both sides (in different parts of the country) about where to spend the holidays. What can we do going forward?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I think any couple that's been married for any length of time has had some tension about where to spend Christmas. Should you spend it with her family or his?

Often, a lot of the pressure for this decision comes from the extended family members themselves. Her parents might insist on having their girl at home on Christmas morning. But his mom is fixing a huge dinner and says she'll be hurt if he isn't at home to share in it. And things can get downright ugly once there are grandchildren involved!

To help navigate this minefield, it's important to remember two principles: be fair, and be flexible.

When it comes to being fair, try to come up with a solution that works for both of your extended families. That might mean spending Thanksgiving with one family, and Christmas with the other, and then switching off the next year.

It's also important to be flexible and to think about what is in the best interests of those around you. Perhaps spending half the holiday in airports is not what your budget -- or your kids -- will handle well. Be realistic each year, and don't be afraid to tell your extended family if it's honestly not a good idea for you to travel.

The bottom line for husbands and wives is to engage in healthy communication on the subject of where to spend the holidays -- just like any other area in marriage.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at


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