There is never a good age for your parents to break the news that they're getting a divorce. At the ripe age of 21 and a senior in college, I have heard it three times (including this year) and if there's one thing I've learned (other than the difference between child support and alimony), it's that divorces are like snowstorms.
You can sit there with your Doppler radar, track them and predict them coming from a mile away. But no matter how much you prepare--the salt you pour on the driveway the night before, the extra batteries and matches you pack away, the homework you purposely leave unfinished because of the anticipated snow day--you never fully know what to expect. Will you get hammered with three inches or three feet? Will school really be canceled, or will there just be the dreaded 90-minute delay?
Either way, once the snow had been dumped, it's the aftermath that really measures the severity of a storm--just like after a divorce. Because once that fresh coat of pristine snow has finally melted and the streets have been plowed, you're still left with that nasty grey slush that never really seems to go away and stays there until spring.
It's all that slush that can bring out (what I like to call) the Charlie Brown in me when the holidays roll around. Don't get me wrong: I love buying gifts for my friends and family, counting Egg Nog as a calcium supplement and watching ABC Family's "25 Days of Christmas" when I should be studying for finals. But once the books are closed and my bags are packed, there's always a bit of uneasiness that washes over me before I head home for those four weeks of winter break.
Why? The holidays are meant to be warm, fuzzy and feel like a Folgers coffee commercial, but it hardly feels that way once the D-bomb has been dropped and you know when you come home from college this year, things won't be the same.
But just because things won't be the same doesn't mean they can't be special. With a little extra preparation, here's how you can deal with coming home for the holidays this season.
1.) To choose or not to choose
You are not five years old where a judge (or mediator) will sit down with your parents and make a neat little schedule of who you will spend every Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Boxing Day with. Instead, you will have to make those decisions for yourself. This is easier said than done. You might envision Mom sitting home alone in her new apartment on Christmas Eve accompanied only by a Bing Crosby record. Or maybe it's your dad who is eating leftover turkey standing over the kitchen sink. But instead of feeling guilty that you have to "choose" which parent you want to spend the holidays with, if possible, be flexible. Have your turkey dinner with dad and then drive over to your mom's for pie and coffee. It's a win for everyone.
2.) Keeping traditions
Traditions are part of what make the holidays special, but what happens when Dad won't be there to dress up as Santa at the annual Christmas family party? Well, you can dress up as Santa yourself, or save yourself from the pictures 10 years from now and do something else. In other words, if you can't keep (or don't want to keep) the old one, make a new one. It could be something as silly as hosting a gingerbread house-building contest with your siblings or making a blanket fort with your family and watching Elf every Christmas Eve.
3.) Being honest
It's okay to feel sad, confused or angry. As a young adult, you may feel like you have to uphold the "I'm fine" image--especially if you have younger siblings. You're home for the holidays, but it doesn't quite feel like home. Clearly, things aren't fine. Instead, talk to your Grandma or your best friend who's home from college. Stop by your old high school counselor's office. Equally as important, you may feel that you have to censor your happiness for fear of hurting your parents' feelings. When Dad buys you a ticket to Miami for spring break and mom asks you what you got under the tree at his house, don't feel like you can't be honest. Your parents want you to be happy and you deserve to be even when their marital status is not.
Just like the weather, the holidays can be unpredictable. So whether scattered flurries or the Great Blizzard of 1899 is in your forecast, be sure to pack some extra boots, a shovel and maybe even a portable kerosene heater in your suitcase this year. Either way, once that snow hits, you'll be ready to dig yourself out.