By Sheri McGregor, M.A.
Estrangement from adult children has a way of dulling parents’ anticipation of holidays. I’ve already started receiving emails filled with dread. Some parents wonder what they’ll say to family members who ask about their estranged adult child. Many worry how they’ll stay cheerful amidst the family-centric hoopla that reminds them of their loss. Some simply miss their son or daughter and the fun holidays they used to share.
Rather than sit back in dread, be proactive. Here are some ideas to take charge of your thinking and take action for your own well-being.
Control your diet: I’m not talking about food
I’m referring to the steady stream of media that puts holidays front and center as early as pre-Halloween. The shopping channels are already airing holiday items. Catalogs are beginning to clog the mail. Food magazines are starting to feature favorites. Reminders are everywhere, but you can choose what you watch, listen to, or read.
Maybe it’s time to donate those brand new issues of food magazines you subscribe to. Rather than open the issues filled with holiday fare, give them away unopened. A young mother with a family on a tight budget might be thrilled to receive those magazines. You’d be doing her and yourself a favor. Don’t know someone in particular? Leave them at a library, offer them to a friend or ask if they know someone who could use them. Drop new magazines at a thrift store, add the issues to one of those mini neighborhood book borrowing stations or into the recycle bin.
Holiday catalogs can trigger all sorts of emotions for estranged grandparents. Why torture yourself by paging through the bright pictures, wondering if the grandchild you no longer get to see still has a mind for science, does gymnastics, or likes to read? Recycle or give them away. If it makes you feel better, leaf through and buy a toy or two for donation purposes. Toy drives abound, and there are needy parents and children who would be grateful for a benefactor.
TV can be an annoying reminder of all we’re not enjoying. Turn it off or turn the channel. As the holiday season accelerates, topic programming and commercials can inundate. Maybe it’s time for a TV diet. People who swear off TV for a set time period report positive effects. More sleep, more time to pursue meaningful activities and relationships, and less mindless eating. Turning off the television could lengthen your life, too. A recent study found that every hour of TV watched reduced lifespan by 22 minutes!
Estrangement? Plan ahead for good holidays
Holiday foods, gift items, and décor arrive on store shelves early. For hurting parents whose adult children are estranged, the displays can make a simple trip to the grocer an emotional minefield. While going into hermit mode might not be wise, it’s possible to plan ahead for quicker trips and minimal exposure. Stock up on items you need regularly. When the holidays hit full swing, you’ll be prepared to avoid the shops.
Plan your activities too. Without a plan, the holidays become something to endure for parents who are feeling sensitive because an adult child is estranged. Most of us know that Aunt Betty will invite us as usual or that everyone expects to come to our house for the holiday. Consider now how you feel about these expectations. And know this: it’s okay to make a change. Sit down and make some plans now for what you really want to do this year. Maybe you do smaller dinners with individual family members, or maybe you go camping and avoid the holidays entirely. By planning ahead, you can be kind and let other people know that this year will be different. Change can be good!
Plan what you’ll say, too. When someone chirps, “Only one hundred days till Christmas,” counter with your own quip: “Only 101 till it’s over!” If you’re worried about Aunt Sally or Cousin Sue asking about your estranged adult child, plan your response ahead. (For help, see Chapter Four in Done With The Crying.) You’ll also need to take care of yourself before, during, and even after any tense events (which are common in light of estrangement). Find help in Beyond Done.
Estrangement? Feed yourself
While controlling what comes in and triggers bad feelings is wise, it’s also important to feed your spirit. This may mean concentrating on the spiritual side of the holidays. Maybe you’ll watch the 2013 The Bible miniseries on Netflix over several evenings (no commercials!), enjoy holiday performances in your community (or find them on YouTube), or attend a choir performance. Some people travel to natural spaces for the holidays, finding the less busy winter months perfect for solitude and peace of mind. To feed your spirit, think of anything that makes you feel good. Is it gardening? Then find a way to do that over the holidays. Is it sewing? Make new curtains or homemade gifts. Is there a hobby or vocation you once enjoyed but haven’t participated in for years? The holiday season can be a slow time for independent instructors who might appreciate a new student. Return to something you’ve missed or learn something you’ve never attempted. Take horseback riding or tennis lessons, brush up on guitar, have a go at ice skating, or enjoy Tai Chi or Qui Gong.
Try something different this year—I dare you!