The Christmas tree brightly shines through the window, and the scent of roasting turkey wafts through the house. Presents sit under the tree. The table is set for guests, and soon, family will gather for a savory feast. When gifts are exchanged, the children will delight in their new acquisitions.
And it will almost seem like a normal Christmas.
But this holiday celebration isn’t normal. There is one less place set at the table, and all feels… awkward. Because this year, there was a divorce in the family. And now, during a festive time usually filled with gratitude, a sense of loss lingers over every interaction.
Things will never be the same—including every holiday from this one on. The pain may dull over time, but it never truly goes away.
Divorce is an unwanted gift that keeps on giving.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there will be about 750,000 divorces in the United States this year. While that number has declined over the last twenty years, the effects of divorce on children—including adult children—are undeniable and ongoing.
Sarah Geringer is raising awareness about the effects of divorce on adult children through her podcast, Heart in a Drawer.
Geringer’s parents divorced when she was four years old. Thanks to her photographic memory, she vividly remembers how painful it was. Then, at 22, one of her parents divorced a second time. She thought she knew how to handle it. Instead, she went through ten years of hard, emotional work to fully process it.
“Being a child of divorce twice over, I think it’s the deepest wound I have,” Geringer reflects.
Her parents’ divorce changed many aspects of her life, including her living situation. Living in the basement of her grandparents’ home meant having family around, but she had less time with her mom, who had to work more.
“I’m coming from a healed place,” Geringer said. “But I know there are so many people who are suffering from that wound of past trauma and don’t recognize how it causes relationship problems.”
According to Geringer, holiday gatherings are often difficult due to the tension of unresolved family pain. Rather than acknowledging the issues head on, families try to forget about the pain altogether. “For three hours, they can pretend that things are okay… and they’re not,” she says.
So, how should we (adult children of divorce) prepare for the inevitable (and uncomfortable) tension this holiday season?
Geringer, author of Transforming Your Thought Life, recommends two courses of action:
First, set your own boundaries. For Geringer, everything changed when she and her husband decided not to play the Christmas ‘merry-go-round’ of holiday celebrations. The couple took control by implementing a schedule for seeing each side of the family on alternating years. It caused drama, yes… but Geringer says it was necessary to gain something else—essential time for her own family.
“One candle of hope we have as adult children of divorce is that we can set the tone with our own families,” Geringer said.
Second, practice meditation. Doing so can help shift your mindset into a healthier place. Geringer recommends Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” She prays this passage while getting ready for the get-together and trusts God to let her know when to speak and when to be quiet.
“I know I’m going to step on a few landmines along the way,” Geringer reflects. “I’m just not going to let them destroy my holiday.”
In 2020, Geringer felt led to start a podcast to help adult children of divorce learn these types of strategies. She wanted to create a resource for others on a similar healing journey as her own:
“I want to be the big sister who sits with you and says, ‘Yeah, I hate when that happens,'” she explains.
She called the show Heart in a Drawer. When asked about the unique name, Geringer tells the following story:
When faced with making a difficult decision about her relationship with a family member, she knew she needed to set some boundaries. She decided to take a picture of the family member down from her wall and place it in a drawer.
“As soon as I closed that drawer, I felt that a piece of me was still inside,” she remembers. “We, as adult children of divorce, have a piece of our heart stuck in a drawer somewhere because we don’t want to look at it.”
The more she talks about the image, the more resonance she finds in other people’s experience, too.
Geringer’s goal is to bring hope to her audience—while it may be painful, there is healing.
“If we can get to the point of walking through the grief, we can get to the stages of acceptance, healing, and hope, so we can open that drawer back up and use that picture to pray for that person.”
December 2021 Issue