Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

estrangement holidaysBy 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-estrangement holidaysHalloween. 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

estrangement holidaysHoliday 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 iestrangement holidayst 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!

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31 thoughts on “Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

  1. shelby

    I am ready to celebrate the holidays again but do not have family or friends that don’t have their own families to celebrate with during Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am wondering if you know of any organizations that need host homes to host families for the holidays. I want to decorate and cook and socialize in my home again. Houston area.

    1. Rhonda

      Shelby, I’m with candleinthewind, I wish I was in the Houston area too. I would love to come to your lovely offer… all the way from Australia.. bless you xxxx

    2. Lis

      Shelby similar here but in NY I have been considering something virtual to help all of us estranged to have a connection. Not to fuss but to laugh and connect. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    3. Pauline N.

      As a widow of a US military serviceman, we would have single airman come for holiday dinners. Many cannot get home for the holidays. Check your area for bases/posts.
      When my husband passed away, I couldn’t face Thanksgiving & Christmas, but I volunteered for a homeless charity. Helping prepare meals for the homeless really helps to put everything in perspective.

  2. Deborah S.

    So glad I found this site. Though we made it through the holidays a little easier this year, I’m celebrating my 65th birthday tomorrow. March 13th and my estranged son XX is 26 yrs old on March 14tth. He was a surprise child for my 38th and a pride and joy to our family….It is about 21/2 yrs since he is unable to speak to us. On fire for Jesus, we visited an Apostolic Pentecostal Church up in Vermont and little did I know they would steal him. Yes , XX was of legal age and technically an adult but I believe undiagnosed Aspergers made him particularly vulnerable to joining this cult. From what I understand, they are called high demand religions these days…When we questioned their unique doctrines and strict rules, they got mad and XX had to choose between them and us…they say he is making the choice to have no contact with us but I’m sure the social pressure is strong and he is biased by their opinions….we loved XX dearly and it’s so heartbreaking to not be able to see or talk to him. My saving grace is that my brother is able to visit him once a year and tells us how he’s doing. His older brother is relieved to be out of his shadow and doesn’t seem to miss XX. His father is pushing 70 and just doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. He is a functioning alcoholic and recently had hip surgery but wants to return to work…a very caring and supportive Dad and husband but not into self reflection or expressing feelings…I am a Cancer patient but seem to be in remission, an avid Christian and Believer. Thankfully my Faith keeps me going even though I’ve made many mistakes. At this point, I just want to find out what happened in my family and finish well before I die…thanks for listening and looking forward to the book and this newsletter…God bless!

  3. Suzanne W.

    I write this now as it has been seven years since I have seen my daughter. Day after tomorrow is her 45th birthday. I usually send a card that is never responded to. This year I won’t. I got a polite, cool response to a Xmas text and the family thought it was such a milestone. Honestly, I have had a gut full of it. My husband is now facing serious health issues and we are under enormous stress. I find my daughter’s game disappointing and disgusting – this is a switch from my years of cajoling, fretting, seeking counseling and wanting to do anything to make nice and figure out what we did wrong. Now I simply don’t care if I hurt her feelings by not chasing after her any longer. It is a weird mean power trip for her that I refuse to continue participating in. Believe it or not, I learned something about this dynamic by watching the public saga of Megan Markle and her father. I could see myself in Thomas and my daughter in the arrogant duchess. Enough already. If I have nothing left of the relationship, perhaps I can now salvage some dignity and save my sanity by walking away.

    1. R

      What an inspiring expression of taking action to suit yourself and letting go. I feel empowered by your decisiveness here.

    2. Nora D.

      Suzanne….I’m new to RP and just read your post. My situation is so similar to your post. Our daughter, 44, arrogant, mean.
      We have just stopped all contact. This will be our first Christmas. I’m feeling pretty good because I’m tired of chasing her and don’t care to be mistreated any longer. You are on a healing path…..and so am I. ☺️

  4. Linda

    I feel comforted in knowing that I am not alone. Sometimes I wonder what was wrong with me to accept being abused and used for so long. I grew up with abuse, so I guess that felt normal.
    I remember a dream I had over 2 years ago. When I awoke I felt a distinct change within me. I even said out loud that I had changed and felt the strength within me. That was the change I needed.
    I had been to therapy and AlAnon for over 35 years. Thank you for reading and listening! I am free….

    1. Carrie-Ann

      Linda, I celebrate your freedom…May You Be Blessed In Body, Mind, & Spirit…Moment to Moment…Breath to Breath…Enjoy!!!
      *When your mind forgets…Remember who you are…In your Heart you know “You are a Beautiful, Intelligent, Capable Being…”

    2. Lisa L.

      Thank you for sharing! I too have put up with being verbally bashed and have accepted being treated badly in the name of trying to keep a relationship with our grandkids! I too am done with all of it and have decided to end the emotional trauma! It is time to get back to my true self! I wish you joy, love and piece of mind this holiday season! The Gifford we deserve to give ourselves!

    3. candleinthewind

      Yes, I had a strange dream the other night, that I walked out on my (now ex) husband at the altar, much to the consternation of friends around me, the marriage that produced the children who now reject me, where do these dreams come from?….to encourage me to trust my own instincts (I had my doubts at the time), to have the courage of my own convictions, to not be afraid to be alone etc…..

  5. Cathy C.

    To be ignored and verbally abused. Kept from pics of my 3 year old grandaughter. I was a social worker with children for years,My son was always jealous. Their father died of a drug overdose. Two years later I turned to alcohol and it has caused my kids to lose respect. Its been 4 years and my son will not forgive me and wishes I would die in a hole

    1. Geri

      My son has mental problems and has possible prison time hanging over his life for the last two years. He hasnt talked to me for as long. Sometimes i get texts saying i should die and text strings of the word bitch and C**t. No one in the judicial system will put him in a hospital. That is the only way in my state is a judge ordering it because he then couldnt check himself out. He is a disabled Marine. His children were moved out of state after his divorce. He wont pay child support spent xmas 2 yrs ago in jail because he was behind in Support. Now he is doing it again. Has been ordered to pay 7000 by the 22 or jail until he pays it all to get out. Plus a drug charge. I think he is addicted to meth too. Its all too much.

    2. Debra

      Wow, that’s horrible. Shame on him. You can’t tell me that type of behavior is just with you. He is a very disturbed being. Focus on yourself, no one needs that hatred.

      I’m living with an abusive daughter. Counting the days she is out of here. And she is so unhappy with herself. But will continue with her outrageous mouth that I’m the issue.

      Love and Light. Don’t let anyone take your shine.

  6. Joan D.

    My estranged son age 41 chooses to cut us off years at the time. Sometimes it’s 3 years before he calls us and usually tells us what we want to hear just to manipulate us out of money again. He’s so good at lying and hiding things about his family members and details are always stretchy. Tells us he has changed. Then we fall for the trap, buy expense and very generous Christmas gifts for the whole family. Then we will go through the silence treatment for a couple of years again after the holidays have passed and he has gotten what he wanted. He is so unstable, never been able to hold a job no more than a couple of years. He has always been a difficult, rebellious child from 1st grade on up to the day he left for the Marine Corp. He went AWOL no once but twice. I thought if anybody could straightened him out they could. It only made him worse. He even pulled 9 months in a county jail. Im glad we weren’t allowed to bail him out because for the first time in his life, he had to suffer the consequences of his actions. At least he learnt that lesson because he has stayed out jail. But still smokes dope and now claims he has found Jesus. Except his actions tell the real tale. He continues to blame his father and me or forcing him to go to either college or the military. He is the one who chose the military and the branch of service to go into. Like the book, “Done with Crying” said it was out of my control. My son called me a bitch when I made him finish high-school. It has been a nightmare ever since starting school with this kid. Me & his father gave him a good life and loved him. We did the best we could. But our son feels entitled to more money and payroll his wants. He is suffering from mental illness I know but refuses to take medicine or go to counseling. All I can do is move on with my life at 62 years and my husband at 65 years and enjoy our life’s with what time we have left. We are DONE with the crying.

    1. Lynne G.

      Hi Joan, while reading your letter I felt like oh my I could have written it. My son now age 47 has been estranged for over 3 years. He was an extremely difficult child and also after high school joined the Navy. Did not go well for him. He has been in trouble if some kind his whole life. I know I tried Everything I could do to get him to make better decisions. These last 3 years I have grown in that even though I have much heartache and sad days I also gave never known such peace. No more of his drama. I have found that place now where I take care of myself. My husband and I have a wonderful life and know we will never allow this son to disrupt our lives ever again. Forgive him yes but no fellowship. Saying a prayer for you today.

    2. Mary Rose Briffa

      omg! my daughter does the same!,blames us for everything she does! manipulation is her game! now Im done with her ,so I’m her enemy ! she lies about us ! so much, & wishes us dead so she can inherit from us! I will makes sure she gets nothing!!

  7. Robby

    I read and feel all of your pain. My son married a person who, from the start, made it clear she only cared for her family. Year by year I watched my oldest son gravitate more towards her family and leaving us behind. They had our 1st grandchild a year ago. Only her family could visit freely. We were given Saturday only for 1 hour. It is always unwelcoming at their place. They help themselves to tea, coffee and snacks, never offering us anything. They have her family over for meals, we get invited once , maybe in a 2 year period. We have done so much for them, including my husband, when his back was really sore, helping my son finish the bathroom renovations so his pregnant wife would not have to go down stairs. As any other time time when we were there doing something for them, as soon as the job was done, we were ushered out the door. Nov 1st was finally going to be our 1st time to be allowed to babysit our 11 month old grandchild. Her mother is allowed to babysit sit on her own but her rule for us is we had to do it together. Without updating them, my husband and I were arriving at their place, at the same time in 2 separate vehicles. My husband had an appointment and was meeting me there. I decided to update my son the night before and he was furious. He stopped talking to us and cut us off from him and our grandson. He said we are liars and manipulative. It is like the son I know died and a stranger replaced him. My husband’s mother died during this time and he said nothing to his father. It has been 5 months, we are now allowed to visit my grandson for an hour when they see fit. He celebrated his birthday with her family, ate holiday meals with her family. I keep putting myself out there to be crushed by asking for them to come here for a meal, he says maybe one day. Right now we are not part of his family, I believe he wishes we were not his parents. When we visit the watch us closely and criticize our every word or move. We have another younger son , who is amazing and appreciates our love and everything we are willing to do for him. I love being a mom , it was the best job in the world. Now I love being my younger sons mom and wish I had more children after him. As for my older son , he has caused me pain , I never knew existed. I hate that I feel that I was not his mom so I would not be going through what I am. I’m on depression medication for the first time, my stomach is a mess, loss so much weight, during these 5 months and waiting to see if the damage to my stomach from all this is cancer. No one told me that this is part of motherhood. We are doing family therapy with him. If we , when asked, open up and share our pain and feelings, we get hateful texts from my son. So now we saw very little and act like we deserve all of this. I feel like it I just quite and tell my son goodbye, have a nice life and will always love you, that would make me a terrible mother. I also dont want my younger son to think I would ever do that to him. My younger sons says his brother is being unfair to us and catches me with tears in my eyes. I want my younger son not to worry and see me happy. Easter is in 2 weeks. I know it will be my younger son, husband and I. I also know another holiday, another stab at my broken heart:(

  8. Victoria

    I just decided tonight that next year I am spending Christmas in Hawaii. I am taking back my power and I won’t be giving it away again.

  9. Natalie

    Hi Sheri
    My name is Natalie…almost a year ago I emailed you about my did reply n I appreciated it!!
    I have not seen or heard from my 3 girls in 22 years..they are now 28-37-39.
    In 1998 I filed for a divorce against my husbands wishes..I totally supported the 5 of us for 21 years..paid for everything!
    He brainwashed the girls to the point that I was accused of child abuse n I was thrown out of my home that MY parents paid for! It’s been sheer hell!
    I have tried many times to reach out with no reply!
    Years back the girls admitted they lied n was told by their dad if they didn’t they would all be out in the streets!
    Recently my friends and cousins were on my back to reach out again…against my better judgment,I sent Christmas cards and left my new email, new number and new apartment!
    I expect no replies and left myself opened for more disrespect and abuse….
    they still are being poisoned by my
    I no longer tell this story because people don’t believe me and how much can I pray, seek therapy and reading articles.

    Sincerely, Natalie. Merry Christmas

    1. Lady D

      Merry Christmas too all. It’s my estrangement anniversary today. I attempted to give my grandchildren, 4years old and 9 months gifts today.,I was ignored, not surprisingly. My daughter and son-in-law should be in jail for financially exploiting my autistic son. When I put a stop to it two years ago, that’s when we were slowly isolated. I am now convinced that my daughter is a narcissist. I have read many articles indicating that the only way to deal with the narcissist is to go completely no contact. I am to that point. No contact it will be in order to save my sanity and go forward in life caring for the person that truly loves me, my autistic son. God bless me and all of you.

    2. Kathleen

      Boy do I not only understand, I live an
      almost Minor image of heart brake
      I love my children in-spite of them selves,
      & situation.
      I still don’t understand how they can
      be so cruel, and heartless. Yet, must
      move on, and know all lies lead to the
      truth. I was a good mother, & still am.
      So how did I have such self righteous
      and cruel adults? Million $ ? !
      All I know is for my own sake, must move
      on. I am worth more then their opinion.
      Our wonderful children, are now not
      so wonderful adults. They chose to
      become this way, But they were never
      raised this way. I reached out several
      times to make amends. Enough is enough.
      God knows the truth, and in the end
      is all that matters.

  10. Dino

    I sabotage a holiday, to get my enjoyment and fill a day before.
    Then I can relax and be way less concerned on the actual day.
    Best case, I two holiday events happen.
    Worst case, I enjoyed my holiday.
    I deserve an enjoyable holiday as much as anyone.

    1. Bonita

      Good for you Dino, I m new to this group and I just joined, Although I’m reading encouraging messages Thank you for sharing

  11. Michelle Y.

    For 10 years we have gone to the mountains to a ski town to watch other families celebrate together. My husband and I love this new tradition. Our 3 adult children will regret the memories they’ve lost some day, or maybe they won’t. But we remember watching the ice skating, the holiday shows at the hotel, the snow and the special little church service we attend in the mountains every year. There are moments of tears watching young families and times where we feel glad we are by ourselves (as we watch other families drink too much and hurt each other in public). Constant reminder that this world is not our home. We make the most of what we have.
    We may go to the beach this year! Something to look forward to! Doesn’t mean there isn’t a few moments of pain and tears, but much better than staying at home and moping around and making everyone miserable with us!

    Matthew 10:35 …..For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law- a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

    PS. Our three kids believe that we are racist, homophobic, hypocritical (worldview). We only want to do God’s will in our lives and we want them to be close to him – which means that we believe our daughter will need to leave her current lifestyle and take up her cross and turn celibate. Following Christ can separate you from your family.

  12. melanie z.

    i find it is very important to have a plan, keep busy and not let our thoughts crowd our minds too much
    self care is super important, because we are always hearing the pain as background music. it takes a ton of effort to just keep going because of that “music” .

    1. Debbie

      I’m finding keeping busy is helping. Trying to cling to Romans 8:28. But yes, that background music plays constantly. Trying to find the graces, beauty and blessings of each day despite the heartbreak. Our 28-year old daughter initiated no contact almost 3 months ago.


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