Holidays: How to manage them

adult child who is estranged

by Sheri McGregor, M.A.

The holidays are here, and for parents with an adult child who is estranged, the festivities may trigger some emotional low points. Being aware of this has helped me develop a realistic view of my happiness, and enjoy the celebrations. If you manage expectations, the holidays can be good ones.

Great Expectations, a Realistic View

Over the holidays, we may feel pressured to radiate joy we don’t necessarily feel. If you have ever confided a deep emotional pain and been told to “get over it,” then you know how hurtful the response can be. Just getting over something is easier said than done, particularly for abandoned parents during the holidays when much focus is on traditions and family ties. Make sure you’re not the one issuing brusque dictates, telling yourself you should be over this by now. I know from experience that unrealistic expectations set the stage for feelings of failure. Instead, take an honest view, and be kind to yourself. For me, during the holiday season, when my adult child who is estranged won’t be with the rest of us, that includes simplifying.

Your Feelings

Feeling a sense of loss is natural. Remain thankful for shared good times, cherish those fond memories, but be honest about your feelings now. For the time being, some shared traditions are over. Others may be more subdued. You may feel sorrow, regret, or even anger. Recognize your feelings for what they are: natural responses. Accept them then move forward as best you can.

Even after many years, parents may still miss their adult child who is estranged, and feel sadness during special days.  In writing my book, Done With The Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, I heard the stories of more than 9,000 parents. Many of them spoke of feelings coming up from time to time. Events and circumstances can trigger old emotions.  Even when when we’ve worked through pain associated with an adult child who is estranged, the holidays can dredge up old wounds and sadness.

Enjoying the Celebrations

The first holiday season after my adult son’s estrangement, the break was so recent that I didn’t have the emotional energy to clearly think through or devise coping strategies for myself or the rest of the family. We celebrated anyway. We needed to begin building new memories associated with special days, which helped. You may find that beginning a new tradition is helpful.

holidays adult child estrangedThis year, for the first time, my family played horseshoes on Thanksgiving. The idea may sound silly, but participating in new activities can ease letting go of ones enjoyed before a family member became estranged. Inviting new people to holiday celebrations might also help keep parents (and the whole family) focused on the present rather than remembering hurt and loss.

While it’s natural to acknowledge and talk about loss with loved ones who share the experience or care about your feelings, avoid dwelling on the hurt. Honoring this year’s celebrations keeps you mindful of the present experience and helps positively shape future holidays.

Meanwhile, if you feel a need, consider a short ritual that acknowledges your feelings in a positive way. For instance, making a toast to the well-being and happiness of your adult child who is estranged could be meaningful. This could be in private, or with other family members who share your loss. Perhaps saying a heartfelt prayer, or lighting a candle in symbolic honor of your estranged adult son or daughter helps acknowledge the pain without dwelling. Even putting out a well-chosen decorative object can provide a point of reflection or honor, without being obtrusive.  rejected by adult childAn object that reminds me of happy times is often on display at my house: a little wooden bird that was given to me many years ago by my adult child who is estranged.

Permission to Grieve Over an Adult Child who is Estranged

Don’t strive for the unattainable. You’re human, and your feelings are normal. Check in with yourself each day. If you’re particularly sad, then a little extra self-care can help. Pretending you don’t feel bad drains energy. Consider exploring your feelings more fully. Journaling has been well-documented as an emotional aid. Five or ten minutes of writing your thoughts out or speaking into a voice recorder can provide a release, and may give you more specific insight into your feelings. For instance, you may realize what concerns you most about the annual Christmas Eve get-together is the possibility of questions about the estrangement from relatives who don’t know the current situation. Knowing this, you can prepare some ready answers or even an exit plan that takes you out of the conversation.

Shift your perspective from what you can’t control to what you can. Rather than wallow, do one small thing. Even a small accomplishment can help you feel better. Consider making a list of tasks you can turn to for energizing when you’re feeling low. Neglecting normal routines can complicate your life. If the mail piles up, a late charge can be a painful consequence. Tasks that take care of you or your surroundings, such as watering your houseplants, sweeping the porch, or going through the mail are doable in short sessions, and keep your life running smoothly even when you’re hurting.

Small Change, Big Difference

This year, I shortened my usually elaborate Thanksgiving menu then asked for help. As a result, we got to try some new entrees and desserts. Despite missing your adult child who is estranged, accepting the separation for the moment, and taking a proactive approach helps reduce overall stress so you can better enjoy the present season.

Related Postings: Six ways to get through Mother’s Day when your adult child is estranged

‘Twas the Night Before Mother’s Day

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28 thoughts on “Holidays: How to manage them

  1. Salli S.

    I have tried so hard and not sure how much longer I can do this. I saw my grandchildren one evening last year. I am trying to deal with my pain by volunteering. I volunteer at a clothing ministry who gives clothes to the homeless and impoverished. For the past three years, I have been a Guardian ad Litem. Trying to help children in foster care helps me deal with the pain. I take comfort in knowing I am helping these children. So tired of waking up in the middle of the night crying.

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Salli,
      You are truly doing beautiful work. Yiu are truly helping. You are adding stitches of shiny gold to the tapestry of those children’s lives. And, somehow, those threads of beauty and light are affecting and will touch many lives even beyond those directly helped. Thank you for doing good and letting your light shine.
      Hugs,
      Sheri McGregor

      Reply
    2. candleinthewind

      Along with doing, I think we also need to learn to sit with the pain sometimes, because it comes whether we do good, get out there, go walking whatever. We need to learn not to be freaked out by it. Perhaps you are trying too hard???

      Reply
  2. Lynn H.

    I am not officially estranged but really am estranged from my only child, an adult son. He is shutting me out of his life because I can not accept his choice of girlfriend who has decided she doesn’t like us and has told me ” I need to let him go”. My son did not say differently and has spent the last three Christmases at his girlfriend’s parents’ house five hours away. I feel like we don’t matter anymore to him. We are not important enough for him to want to spend a Christmas with us, who live in the same town.
    And trying to have any type of relationship with them is awkward and forced as it is very hard for me to warm up to someone who doesn’t like me. My options are to accept my “place” as they define it or to carry on as best I can remaining true to myself. I am working on the latter and trying to restore my sense of worth and purpose. The book, Done with the Crying” was really helpful. It seems to know more about me than my own son. I am a good person and was a good parent. I am trying to move forward. I feel for everyone who is going through estrangement.

    Reply
  3. Debbie M.

    I have not seen my son since 2005. After caring for my mother for 2 years, she passed and in the will, left her three grandchildren a large sum of money to split. My share was the opportunity to live in her 20-year-old house for as long as I wished – paying all expenses, taxes, etc. I gave up my apartment to move in with here, and paid her $700 a month rent. She did not want to go into a nursing home, but stay in the home and my care made this possible.
    When I decided to move, the grandchildren would inherit the house. He called me the day after the will was read and told me unless I moved immediately I would never see him or this family for the rest of my life. When I refused, he sued me, and the case was thrown out in my favor. I stayed five years but expenses were high and the house was too large for one person. I moved to a small apartment.
    He has since had two children, which I have seen once. He has not spoken to, or seen me, since that time. His wife met me for dinner once but refused to discuss the problem.
    They live in a wealthy neighborhood and both work. She drives a Porsche SUV, they have a pool and take numerous vacations a year, the last to Europe, which she posts on Facebook. They inherited a lake house from her parents. He is a VP at his company.
    I have since been diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder which will shorten my life by about 8 years. I am now 78, and know I will pass before we have reconnected. I blame myself for raising such a greedy, selfish child, but it is too late for that now.

    Reply
  4. C. McIntosh

    Estrangement is a difficult situation but I was blessed with a woman who asked me to be her mom. Her parents were killed in a war foreign country. Her husband’s parents were also killed and I am his mom as well. Their 2 children asked me and my husband to be their grandparents. Both my husband and I were made to be the bad guys in our divorces. We were blessed with a solution beyond what we ever imagined

    Reply
  5. Peony

    I’m here brushing up so I can get out ahead of possible holiday triggers….grateful as always that this material is always here. Thank you, Sheri!

    Reply
  6. Monique

    The hurt is real and raw on the “Holidays” and I can’t wait for them to be over! I have 2 estranged daughters that plan fun things to do together without me. The worst is going to stores and seeing other mothers with their daughters laughing and having a good time. This lovely Thanksgiving they planned a dinner together with their dad and his girlfriend, then of course had other get togethers with their boyfriend’s families. Fa la la la la, la la la la! I hate the Holidays! I believe that they were created so that retailers can make the most money possible, especially on groceries. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was about sitting by a blazing fire and being mindful? I’m going to erradicate the holidays and call it “Marshmellowdays!” All I want is an outdoor fire pit, a long stick, a bag of marshmellows and a huge mug of hot chocolate! Pass the whip cream, please!

    Reply
    1. Michele

      I feel the dame way! Hate the holidays bc of how it reminds me of spending time together with my kids. They’re assholes now!
      Don’t forget the kahlua or Baileys in the hot chocolate.

      Reply
    2. Christine E.

      This Christmas was the first Christmas I decided to leave for the holidays. I didn’t put up a Christmas tree, didn’t decorate, nothing. I am a Christmas lover! Go all out for the holidays, but had no family left. Both children estranged. And I can honestly say, I give a s*^t less and less as time goes by. I have cried so much that like the book says, I am “Done with the Crying”. Now. I’m more angry and resentful of the unfairness of it all. But, I also realize that this is another flip side of grief, so am trying not to let these toxic feelings win. When I left for Christmas, I expected to feel miserable. Instead, I felt free, unburdened from the usual holiday commitments. I realize I want to be in the “spirit” of Christmas all year, not just a season. So the holiday is evolving for me. I won’t celebrate at home next year either, but instead will take a lovely vacation somewhere. I have no doubt, I would’ve been miserable if I had continued the holidays as if nothing was different. It IS different and I have to evolve around that. So far, it seems to work….for me.

      Reply
  7. Ramona

    My two oldest sons have abandoned me because we disagree on politics and social issues. I am willing to agree to disagree and love anyway; they are not. It is so painful. Both have moved and waited months to let me know their new addresses. It’s crushing, really. Holidays have been so hard this year— the second year of distance. People knew us as a happy family, so someone is always asking for news of my kids. It is exhausting to avoid talking about them, too painful to share over and over. I have been sending simple “love you and miss you” cards but just learned tonight about another address change the oldest “forgot” to share with me. I feel so hurt, and foolish for continuing to reach out to people who are so rude and uncaring. But I will keep doing it, because I hope one day things will be different.

    Reply
    1. Jan

      I went thru an estrangement of 21 years with my oldest son.
      A few months ago we were able to reunite.
      Now!!!! My younger son has decided to estrange me not his father but me!!!
      What I did this time…….who knows??? My choice is outside companion interference, jealousy??
      The first time was bad enough, now again?
      How much can a mother take……..a lot!!!!!

      Reply
    2. Lisa

      I’ve a friend with 6 children and she’s had this happen with 4 of the six. I’ve been through all the pain with her. It’s heartbreaking. I will say that it was 2 years for some children and almost 10 for another but they all eventually came back around. The youngest is now going through it. She learned to go on and live life and not let it paralyze her….and prayed. I trust you will have the same story. HUGS

      Reply
  8. Linda

    Sometimes yes an object helps but doesn’t last long. It doesn’t replace a person. But yeah I get that one. I moved to another state but I was thrown off guard a guy who knew my daughter and his wife also knew my daughter > I was faced with at work. He questioned if I was her mom because he discovered my last name. I said yes. Of course, with hesitation because I was hurting inside because she had been very nasty to me and I wasn’t talking to her. He said I was talking with my wife who is her friend. And I’m sorry I was telling my wife I think I work with her mom and she’s the nicest person at my work she treats everyone the same. He said I just can’t believe it she portrayed you as so horrible and I can see for myself it’s all a lie. He said, I told my wife you shouldn’t believe her daughter this obviously is to hurt her mom and the daughter is the problem. He was very sympathetic and he was the one apologizing instead of my grown brat.
    I could also tell this man my daughter married , his family was told bad things too. It’s a sharp edged sword with estranged mean grown children. Don’t accept this behavior reject it and stand your ground.
    My other daughter is my real long term heartbreak. It sent me into a deep dark depression. It also hospitalized me. She recently moved from Michigan to Nevada. This is big bc when I moved I received days of attacks via messaging saying you are a terrible grandmother moving away some kind of mom you are from both daughter and boyfriend at time that’s how I learned he was just as evil. He married her now. But they find Reasons” to justify their attacks! After I moved sometimes every two weeks or once a month I visited them driving 4 hrs one way. I was also faced with games soon. I’d get there and she made plans for them to sleep over somewhere. She knew I was coming and the children were always more then excited to see me. The twins were identical to me we were very connected. What my daughter did was very calculated none of it was accidental. She was always cruel. I’m ashamed of this but by 10 years old , she tried drowning puppies and then later her sister!!! Yes her sibling! . Yes true. I fear for my grandchildren !I know she most likely especially the twins abused them. When I lived there the first 6 yrs of their life they’d beg me to not take them back to her house , I mean beg and cry. And I’ll always worry about them. I pray for them all the time. :(((‘ they’re on my mind daily. They are 12 now. 🙁 my heart longs to be with them. Pray for them please! I snoop to see social media pics they look so sad 🙁

    Reply
  9. Terie P.

    Where to even begin?? Been estranged from my son for 15 years. Was it because, I gave back his 96 Chevy Impala (collector) to the bank after I recosigned 3 times and he let it fall through. Also; he had 2 minor accidents which I paid for the damage to the vehicle. I’ve seen him twice in 15 years…the one time when my daughter graduated from nursing school and the last time was when I accidentally bumped into him at a gas station. Was sitting in my car with my other son as they both were conversing back and forth. Being totally unacknowledged, I then got out of the car to knock on his window. No response, not a flinch. I turned away in hurt, rejection, my heart ripped out. My son recently was married in june this year, was not invited. My youngest son received a wedding invitation only addressed to him and his girlfriend. He said mom, why would I go when you’re not there? I’ve always told all three of my children, being close to one another is so very important. Love all my kids to death and I’ve Always have let them know. Came from a very bad divorce because I got tired of the infidelity. That being said their father never wanted the divorce therefore; he did nothing but bad mouth me with vengeance putting my kids in the middle. At the time 9, 13, 15 at the time. No child should ever get caught up in adult matters. Example, my ex told my daughter she was a mistake and I wanted an bortion. Never would I say or ever consider such a thing! I knew right after I had our son I wanted a little girl and God blessed me. My daughter has had to hear this from her father numerous times. When my daughter has came to me and asked me if that was the truth? Knowing in my heart and God knows as I told my daughter, never been so far from the truth! How can a father be so vindictive, evil to tell their child that while stating such an God Awful Lies about the other parent? So I’ve had to do what I can to defend myself in the truth to my two oldest and they refuse to acknowledge it. Do not like bringing the past up, all I ever wanted was to move forward with All Three of my kids in my life. Feel Stuck: Pretty depressed & it gets hard some days. Honestly; it doesn’t help being on Ssdi for the past 4 years, work-related injury. Unfortunately, it gives you too much time to think and we all know what too much thinking can do. Pushing towards 2022, plan to change things around with my life. These days I have to really push myself, that’s never been me. Always happy, optimistic, … It’s like I’ve lost myself. Do have my one sister and my best friend that knows my pain however, they do not understand because it’s not happened to them. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. That being said, where to go to from here?

    Reply
    1. rparents Post author

      Dear Terie,

      Thank you for sharing your story. The specifics of that one comment by your ex to your daughter is so indicative of what parental alienation entails. A father who truly loves his daughter would not hurt her with such a lie.

      I’m sorry for what you have all endured and I hope your estranged son will perhaps see the truth one day

      Meanwhile, live your life well. Be strong and brave and take good, kind care of yourself. Let’s make the best of each day.

      Hugs to you and thank you again for your enlightening comment.

      Sheri McGregor

      Reply
  10. Laura

    I dont want to feel this way. I dont understand why it had to happen this way. First I loss my husband, about 6 months later the kids started their descent from my life. He wasn’t their real father but as close as it could come. They had to take the grand children with them

    Reply
  11. Alice J.

    I am not sure what to do at Christmas time. If we invite our estranged child to join us, she might come briefly out of a sense of duty. But it will be fake and probably tense. I don’t want to not invite her, in case there is hope for reconciliation. But I don’t want Christmas to feel like an obligation for either one of us.
    (I know it’s only May right now; I am thinking ahead.)

    Reply
  12. Ellen L.

    I have not spent a holiday with my son and his wife since they got married. Now they have a 3 year old and still no invites for the holidays. We are heartbroken. Once in a blue moon my son will call my husband, his step dad but not me. It makes me so sad. I really miss himm and i miss seeing my granddaughter. I have apoligized anything i have done wrong . I have told him i want to have a good relationship. No response. Humiliating and filled wilh guilt.

    Reply
  13. Nikki

    I will try your suggestions. Without any friends or family support other than my husband, it is very hard. My 18 year old son was – I thought- very close to us. Such venomous words of our parenting hurts us so much. Same questions of why, when did he start feeling this way, how could he feel/say these things, and is there ever hope of him coming back to us? It has been four lonely months now and this will be the first Thanksgiving ever without him. So hard to try to move on when you know you didn’t deserve this. Thank you for this website.

    Reply
  14. Joan

    Paula O
    I empathize with you. How awful for you!
    I have been separated from my eldest daughter
    a year. My daughter has suffered with serious
    mental illness as well as having made a very unfortunate choice of a husband 22 years ago.
    I live in Wisconsin also, my daughter and her family recently moved to Texas without even saying “goodbye”. My husband and I take life a day at a time.
    The hardest thing is remembering my daughter’s
    cruel words. Doing the exercises in Shari’s book will help you. I have had to work very hard with my
    husband’s help to maintain my self image.
    Never in a million years did I ever expect to
    have this experience. Reading the “The Boat”
    will give you direction and courage. Sending prayers!

    Reply
  15. Paula O.

    This is all so new to me, I never thought my son would treat me this way. My husband passed away in Oct. 2019, while we were on our 48th anniverary trip. He died in our hotel room at 4:30 am. My son married a woman from Canada and she came to the states the nite before the funeral which was November 2nd. because I had to wait all most 2 weeks for his body to come back from Oklahoma, to Wisconsin. They married in November 2019. I have not seen my son since Mothers Day 2019, He refuses to commuicate with me. He is my only child, I have family that is very supportive, but no one that live close to me. I ordered the book and am looking forward to reading it, the HURT is so bad. Hi

    Reply

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