Estrangement and the holidays: Your perspective can help

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

estrangement and the holidaysWhen it comes to estrangement and the holidays, feeling joyful can be a challenge.

This time of year, parents of estranged adult children can feel very down. They wish things were the way they used to be, they look at all the other happy families, and find themselves alone. In estrangement, for many, the holidays equal pain. This holiday season, won’t you join me in considering how a change in perspective can change our experience?

Estrangement and the holidays:
Change your perspective, change your experience

There’s a funny internet article (or two) about how social media models use perspective to change how they appear. Camera angle and posture work like magic to change the viewer’s perspective, and voila! Abdominal rolls flatten, the booty looks bigger, and the models look slim and fit.

Of course, with estrangement, it’s not as simple as sucking in your estrangement and the holidaysbelly so you look thin or tucking your tongue to the roof of your mouth to lift a double chin. But when it comes to estrangement and the holidays, your perspective really can make a positive difference. This is true in both how people see you, and how you see yourself and experience the holidays.

Below, I’ll share just a few short thoughts on perspective. These are meant as jumping off points for your own unique ideas and specific ways to view the holidays in a positive light.

Estrangement and the holidays: Are you really alone?

In the U.S., many senior citizens are alone for the holidays. Millions of seniors are by themselves over the holidays. You may feel alone, but you’re not.

When you read that, what did you immediately think of? Did you imagine people sitting at home alone, maybe with a sad face? If so, it’s because of our conditioning about the holidays.

estrangement and the holidaysWe’re conditioned to think of families and togetherness as the perfect holidays. And that can set us up to believe that if our holiday isn’t like that, then it’s not a good holiday. Seeing the holidays with a more realistic view puts your situation into perspective.

There are many, many people who choose to spend the holidays alone. They’re tired of the hoopla and commercialism. Or perhaps they choose to focus on what’s at the core of holiday meaning for them and view the time as a period of rest and reflection.

Estrangement and the holidays: When will this end?

There are 365 days in a year, and only a few are holidays. Don’t get caught up in the commercial ploy that tries to make everyone think holidays-holidays-holidays for months on end.

Estranged or not, holidays evolve

For all of us, the holidays have changed over the years. This is trueestrangement and the holidays whether we face estrangement or not. Think back to the different ways the holidays have evolved for you…even from childhood. To have a good perspective about estrangement and the holidays, consider this just another phase.

When your circumstances evolved in the past, how did you change up the holiday activities to fit? Think about it, when your children were young, you did certain things…. Then you moved to more age appropriate activities. Maybe you used to get together with extended family, and then you no longer did. Families get complicated, and activities change. Sure, we didn’t want or expect estrangement, but it’s our reality (at least for right now). We might as well make the best of the holidays despite it.

If it helps, consider clear back to the first holidays you remember. Make a timeline, or even a scrapbook if that appeals. It’s proof that holiday joy changes.

When things change, we must change, too. We have been flexible before, and we can again.

What will you do now to make YOUR holidays bright? Don’t forget to let YOUR light shine.

Estrangement and the holidays: Is this a plus?

You may be so focused on the sadness and loss that you’re blinded to any positive aspects. Answer honestly: What won’t you miss?

estrangement and the holidaysMaybe you won’t have to cook (or cook as much). Maybe you’ll have more money in your budget. Maybe you don’t have to travel. Maybe this way, the holidays won’t interrupt your healthy lifestyle. Maybe, for once, you get to do what you want.

In my book, there’s an exercise to get you thinking about what you don’t miss about your estranged son or daughter. Alter that exercise for the holidays. Doing so can help.

To change your perspective, consider what you will not miss.

Estrangement and the holidays:
Acknowledge your feelings

This is not intended to minimize the sadness parents of estranged adult children can feel. The holidays really can be difficult.

Sadness, longing, anger, envy, bitterness, hatred. . . . All the emotions we don’t like can pile on.

It’s okay to acknowledge those feelings, cry, vent, or reach out for support if you need to. But don’t get stuck there.

If you start to feel down, consider your perspective.

  1. Remind yourself that you’re not alone in being alone.
  2. Remind yourself of the way the holidays have changed throughout your life, and think about how you changed right along with them—you’re more flexible than you think.
  3. Instead of thinking about what you’re losing this holiday season, think about what you’re gaining in the loss. We can all come up with one or two things that are positives.

Be thankful for the good in your life, and take on perspectives that make you feel better.

HUGS to all of you,

Sheri McGregor

P.S. — Read the related posts below for holiday help … and use the search box on the right of the page, using the word “holidays” for even more articles.

P.P.S. — as always, I’d love to hear your perspective on what you can change up to make the holidays good/fun/enjoyable/bright despite estrangement. Leave a reply to this article.

Estrangement and the holidays: Related reading

Abandoned parents, let your light shine

Estranged? Enjoy the holidays anyway

Estrangement and the Holidays: How to manage them










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16 thoughts on “Estrangement and the holidays: Your perspective can help

  1. Neesieto3

    Great advice, thank you! This is my 1st holiday without my daughter. I woke this morning with a peace and I got to say it is direct response to prayer and facing facts but Im sure I will still have some cry-time. The thought of looking at things I won’t miss is epic! I will not miss the moodiness and now we can play cards games. The girl just didn’t want to ever get involved and was surly. I spent too much time of my life worrying about everyone being happy and included.

    We are also changing traditions. I am really looking forward to today.

  2. Murdear

    This was a strange Thanksgiving for me even tough my daughter told me she would not be coming around for the holidays. I decided to let go and Free myself from the nasty texts, phone calls and emails, which I can’t block but just delete and trying not to read them. I did pretty good today and my grandchildren from my husbands children who are mine as well and my younger daughter and son brighten my day. I know each day my daughter and I don’t talk actually need to happen due to the hard feelings she has for me and the holidays are hard. But with support from the people that truly loves us will help keep them bright. Stay strong

    1. Diane

      I was alone on Thanksgiving. But it turned out to be a happy day! I put out my Christmas tree and decorated my apartment. Time just flew by. I made myself a nice, simple dinner. I was so happy. My daughter, who I am estranged from, lives quite a distance from me, about three hours away. She did invite me for Thanksgiving and Christmas but when I replied to her email (she never calls me, only emails me) she never answered it. I asked her how I would get to her home. I could never drive that far alone. So, I would have to take a plane or train. She does this every year. She invites me but never answers my question of how I would get there. I think she does this so she can tell my son-in-law and grandkids that “Grandma won’t come!” She’s very passive/aggressive and can be so cruel. I’m giving them a group Christmas gift this year, just a $50. Visa gift card. No more individual gifts and this is my last time of gift giving. I have no contact with my grandkids who are ages 22, 20 and 14. They are old enough to contact me. So heck with them all. i give up. Anger is taking the place of sadness with me now. You have a good Holiday and enjoy it in your own special way.

  3. canadageese

    This will be my 3rd Christmas without my son. I do have moments, as we all do, every day. But I was surprised a few weeks ago when my husband mentioned him at the end of the day, and I could truthfully say that I did not have one thought about him for 2 days. Mixed emotions on that one because I felt a bit of guilt. I do bring him into the Christmas season by playing songs he liked. I do post a Merry Christmas to him on facebook with a memory, even though I know he will not see it. (he blocked us all) I remember his first Christmas when I put his “1st Christmas” ornament on the tree. My eyes may glisten with tears but I remember the good times and these give me some happiness. That is when “living in the past” helps my heart. I have to talk to myself and remember that if he came back right now, with the partner in his life, there would only be more chaos and more pain. I miss the son that was. I do not miss the son who he became, in order to appease another person. I cannot allow my heartbreak to make my other adult child feel that her presence over Christmas is “just okay” and that she cannot bring me happiness. That would be so unfair to her, and to us. Focussing on who is missing is something both she and my estranged son, do not deserve. As I look at the lights on the tree, I have to remember that HOPE is also the best gift that we can give to ourselves. It helps me to push forward. Joyous Christmas to all.

    1. rparents Post author

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. You are so right. Remembering in a way that helps is good…and focusing on this season and the people who are close makes the best sense. Merry Christmas to you. In the New Year, perhaps you will go even more than two days without a thought of your estranged son…and not feel guilt about it. It’s only natural…

      Sheri McGregor

    2. Fearbehindme

      Thank you for your post. After reading “Done with Crying” I realize that I can still experience Joy, I will just need to be more mindful, aware of the good relationships with others, forgive and be the light. Before I read the book I felt so alone, embarassed, shaming myself, isolating. I’m now slowly setting myself free and choosing new traditions that don’t include our estranged son. Joyous Christmas to you too. I appreciate your post and all the others I’m reading. Hugs to you this holiday season as we flow through the emotions that come and we keep Faith of what’s to come. Aloha

    3. NJMom

      Hi Canadageese,
      Your situation mirrors my own. This is my second Christmas without my son. It has been difficult, but I made up my mind that my son is not going to destroy the joy of this holiday or any other celebration. I had an amazing experience on Christmas Eve. While sitting in church I felt this wave of complete peace, and I knew it was time for me to move on because God is with me guiding my way. We had a wonderful Christmas with my daughter and her family and I am looking forward to the new year. I have lots of things I want to do. I will remember you in my prayers along with all who are a part of this unique family.
      God bless.

    4. AKE900103

      Thank you for sharing! We share the same feelings as to the price that comes with our sons significant others. I too miss the loving son I raised and knew. I fear he is lost forever. This is my 4th Christmas without him and it has been painful but this forum has been so helpful in putting things in perspective. I have two other children who deserve to have all of me and today I am feeling hopeful that it’s going to be a much better year! Hang in there. (Hugs)

    5. Hoping4Hope

      How very well put. The mixed emotions, the struggle to move forward, and your joy in successes.
      The holidays are a special challenge, yet this too will pass. I’m glad that for some here they have begun to regain their joy even in the “memorial” times- the holidays and others when our special memories crest.
      I remain infinitely grateful for the times I am able to spend time with my son, even knowing he has a very limited tolerance for me in the best of moments. I can’t deform who I am to try for every bit of his attention. For my sake, for his, for everyone I meet, I have to do what I thought I never would, and focus on me.
      Living in the present, in what is rather than what we would wish for under different circumstances- way to go. Its encouraging to read that forward movement is possible, as I am new to this and have trouble believing in that possibility. So again, thanks to those who give us hope for a better tomorrow, and Thanks for the presence of those who struggle as I do. Together we are so much stronger than alone.
      Best warmth to you all.

  4. Bestrong2day

    Hi had already decided enough was enough and thought I had done a reasonable job at disconnecting from both my daughters. Like Canadageese above, I can’t control my daughters, I can only control myself and try to muster up some excitement for the Holidays. As this is the first Christmas for me not at least having seen any of my Grandkids, there is only my husband and I having Christmas alone. I had already decided that I surely wasn’t going to miss cooking and all the work and we just are going out o a nice dinner at a place that we both love. However, my youngest daughter, I think is sending out feelers and I’m not sure what to do about it. She has sent me 2 Christmas cards, had her Dad ( my ex) leave me a VM asking me to make an effort to get along because it is Christmas and then yesterday, I received in the mail a gift of cookies from my daughter. I know it’s not much and I stand firm I simply cannot go back into the horribly abusive, and dysfunctional relationship with my daughters. FYI last I heard from my youngest daughter, she turned me away from staying at her house because I would make my grandkids sad….I’ve never done anything to make them said, nor ever would. What do I do when my perspective is so different after reading Sher’s book and I so want to tell them how I feel about what they have done and I am not the same person. Literally, my kids are text book for Sheri’s book in the horrible things they have done to me over last decade. I want to tell them about the book and hopefully they will see what they are doing wrong. I didn’t expect to get anything from either one of them nor did I send them anything either. I don’t even want to say thank you for the cookies. I just want them to leave me alone. I think probably the best thing to do is nothing. If I tell them what I’ve learned from the book, they would probably just find another way to be mad at me. But why is my daughter making this small attempt? Guilt? Your thoughts would be appreciated.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear BeStrong2day,

      There could be many reasons. Here’s an article on the topic that may be of use to you (link at the end of this). It’s okay to acknowledge a gift with a thank you. It’s being polite. As for telling them what you’ve learned, it’s probably not the best timing with the holiday. I may be overstepping, but is it possible the cards and cookies were at the prompting of your ex, too? Anyway, lots of hugs to you. — Sheri McGregor
      Here’s that link:

    2. Stephen

      My thoughts is, she is keeping one foot in the door, just in case. In case of what, who knows, but they don’t always like to close the door completely. My daughter does the same thing. Just when I am about to give up completely, she peeks her head into my life, to let me know she is still there. Then we rinse and repeat the process. I am ok if she goes away forever, but for some reason, she won’t completely go away. I am going through 2 Christmas’s now and 2 years of no life with my grand child. I do know it is like a death for me = I love her, I want her here, but I know she can not be, so I let it go for the most part.

  5. Bestrong2day

    Thank you Sheri. I don’t think I will contact her at all. Not even to say thank you. Thank you for putting me in this cruel mess. No..I hate this time of year now.

  6. Laurel

    Thank you everyone for your heartfelt stories about this difficult time of year. I managed to make it through the holidays this year despite not knowing where my oldest son (age 33) lives now. His wife declared war on all the women in our family upon meeting us 7 years ago. After years of ongoing abusive accusations, and months of silence he moved to another state with his wife – to be closer to her family. Neither he or his wife have worked in 5 years. We have had to watch as her relatives drain his money on a project they roped him into investing in their home country where he doesn’t speak the language and isn’t allowed to hold legal title to property. I told him I would no longer tolerate the bullying and efforts to turn other family members against me with lies. It was hard but it was time to stop the abusive behavior. I don’t recognize this child of mine anymore. He even looks different physically – he no longer has the smiling eyes and warm smile that I last saw when he was 20. Right now I feel mostly relief, and occasionally sad. “The Boat” is a wonderful article for those here who haven’t read it yet.

  7. Nancy H.

    I’m new to this forum, and not even sure I’ve been approved yet. I read some of the comments above, and felt like a member of “the club” right away.

    This is my third Christmas without my daughter, and the worst one so far. I awoke this past Sunday to find a pile of my boxes on my front porch, which I had forgotten were stored in her attic. About ten minutes later, my husband of 30 years (not my daughter’s father, who I divorced 40 years ago) received a text message from her. She told him she is moving to another state, her house is 80% packed, and she never wants to see me again. This, a week before Christmas.

    I had started decorating a tree, and stopped. It’s sitting there with just some old fashioned bubble lights. I’m looking for a sound effects machine that will play continuous bubble farts to provide the atmosphere I’m feeling over what’s left of the holiday for me.

    It’s all a misunderstanding, involving my ex, which has turned into a nasty triangle. I’ve tried to reconcile with her, but another misunderstanding just ended up making matters worse. All she wants to do is rehash things to prove she’s the victim. She has a terrible temper and has said things to me I wouldn’t never say to my worst enemy. She’s an angry hyper-sensitive controlling person. She has no friends, she explodes at the least provocation. And, if it weren’t for my efforts, she wouldn’t be speaking to her father or grandmother either (who she relegated to the dust bin for over five years before turning on me). I think she may thrive on hating other people.

    It doesn’t appear she loves herself much either, as she has become obese, wears unattractive clothes, smokes, gets no exercise and has an angry resting face. By contrast, I keep myself in good shape for a 72 year old woman. I’m sure that makes her feel worse about herself. Quite honestly, her appearance and demeanor make it very unpleasant to be around her, which almost seems to be intentional on her part. She even works at home, and has panic attacks if she has to do any group presentations. I wish she would go to counseling with me, but she is done, and she won’t.

    Yes, believe it or not, I have some good memories of times we spent together, but that’s all history now.

    My granddaughter is coming home from her first year of college for the holidays. She goes to school in another country half way around the world. I hope to spend some time with her, as this will be the last Christmas before my daughter and her husband move away. So, in the future, I’ll have to make special arrangements to have her fly out here to see me.

    I only have one daughter and one granddaughter, and who knows how long I’ll be in the planet. It’s a tragedy to me, and I have lost all hope of ever reconciling with my daughter. She told my husband she has no love for me and she’s moving on. So, that’s it. I’ve given it all I can without allowing myself to be completely denigrated.

    Thanks for listening, if you got this far. And thank you for the space to tell my story, which is still a festering wound in need of healing. I do have some friends who have invited us for Christmas, and for that I’m extremely grateful. And now, I’ve found an anonymous support group, I hope. Perhaps we can be a comfort to each other.

    I wish you a peaceful holiday.

    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Nancy,

      I love that idea for background “music.” Keep that sense of humor! It’s great!

      I’m so sorry you’re facing such cruelty. Nothing to make light about, but why not have fun despite it!? Just because she’s miserable doesn’t mean you have to be!!

      Hugs to you.
      Sheri McGregor

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