For parents whose adult children don’t want to be around them: Take charge of your holidays early
by Sheri McGregor, M.A.
About this time every year, emails start arriving to my in-box. Parents whose adult children don’t want to be around them worry about the holidays. For rejected parents, the season can loom like clouds of gloom and doom. This year, I have a mission for you … if you choose to accept it.
Those of you who’ve read my book, Beyond Done With The Crying More Answers and Advice for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, know that one of my pet peeves is being driven around without a destination. This always sparks my anxiety, which I connect to my Native American roots and to my ancestors who were driven away from their homes on the Trail of Tears. For more about how ancestry affects us and may relate to estrangement, you’ll want to read the book. Today, let’s get out of powerless passenger seat and steer our own way to holiday bliss.
Put yourself in the driver’s seat
Parents may feel like they’re being held hostage on an out-of-control bus steered by their estranged sons or daughters. You may have no choice about what they decide for their holidays, but don’t allow them to ruin yours. This year, instead of buckling up and dreading what comes, map out a successful holiday season for yourself.
Map out your holiday journey
Today is your starting point. Get out pen and paper. Jot down what comes to mind after each of the bulleted items below. You’ll capture first responses—which are often true to your heart. You can use your notes to later do research, make decisions, and attend to details.
- Focus on what’s within your power. If you were planning a trip, you’d think about all the fun you can achieve, not what you can’t. When I visited New Orleans, Louisiana some years ago, the trip centered on a speaking engagement for a Society of Professional Journalists conference. So, while a day-long historical tour would have been my first pick, time was limited. A short swamp tour, a carriage ride down Bourbon Street, and a steamboat dinner cruise fit—and that’s where I kept my focus. For the holidays, let go of what you can’t have. Seize upon fun, meaningful pursuits that you can. Share a meal with a friend. Write an email or call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Give to a charity.
- Arrange your holiday itinerary. Every trip needs an itinerary. What will keep you physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged? Who and what will lift your spirits? What new activities can you try? (And what sort of planning will they require?) What old joys can you still do and love? (Remember, some things are better to let go—for now or forever. So, give yourself permission.) Maybe you want to see a holiday musical or attend a show. Tickets go fast, so book early. Check local listings for online events, too. More exist than ever before. You could invite a buddy (even a furry one) and make your sofa the best seat in the house. Try this online event link at meetup.com for a few ideas. Get out your calendar now. Your successful holiday itinerary depends upon it.
- Schedule some down time. Don’t forget to leave some wriggle room. Packing every day in November with activity may leave you too tired to enjoy December. I’ve learned that several full, busy day in a row leave me exhausted—and grouchy. Emotional well-being is tied to physical wellness. Schedule some downtime, too, and plan wellness activities for those days. Get a few new books to read. Plan some healthful but easy meals and buy what you can now to avoid the holiday rush. Restock any medications and supplements, as well as feel-good items such as your favorite tea, a fragrant candle, chewing gum, scented lotion or nail clippers. Personal care is self-care—and needed during stressful times.
- Be self-compassionate. Sometimes, the holidays bring pressure to do what other people want. It’s healthy to keep to routines and honor commitments but begging off an event or tradition is worth considering when we’re hurting. A pros and cons list can access logical reasoning but may not honor your heart. If you’re sick at your stomach at the thought of an event, maybe saying “no” is right this time. Remember, declining this year doesn’t mean you will the next. Or it could be the start of a new pattern of self-care that leads to less worry about pleasing others and more about honoring yourself. Most of us parents have loved selflessly and sacrificed our own needs for our children often and in many different ways, for much of our lives. It’s okay to be kind to yourself. Self-care is not selfish. Are you taking good care of yourself?
- Prioritize. Some parents whose adult children don’t want to spend time with them still have lots of other people and commitments vying for attention. Our needs change at different stages and depending on life circumstances. For your well-being and sanity, start early (now!) to weigh what is most meaningful against your emotional energy stores and what will support your own needs. One exercise in Beyond Done leans on the concept of medical triage, to help prioritize who and what is most important to you at this life juncture. This can help you make decisions while considering your personal needs and those of your family and friends.
- Opt out. Use the frantic holiday season to accomplish unrelated tasks. Shred old tax records, clear your clothes closet, or de-clutter for a clean slate to start the New Year. Plus, you can listen to your favorite music, stream feel-good movies, or enjoy the quiet while you work. Sometimes, the ears need a break.
Take a positive detour
When it comes to the holidays or anytime, parents whose adult children don’t want to be around them are not doomed to the shadows of the dark cloud of impending holiday gloom. This season, make the days ahead a personal journey to your own joy and fulfillment. Maybe shifting gears this year is just a side trip. But the detour might lead to new adventures and better perspectives on life. Open your heart to the possibility of closing out the year in a way that helps you start the new one with a fresh outlook. What do you think? Do you accept this mission?
Watch this site for more practical holiday tips. Or, put “holidays” in the search box and get links to past articles here at the site. Also, I hope you’ll leave a comment with your own ideas to help parents of estranged adults during the holiday season. We can support one another.