Inviting Estranged Adult Children Home For the Holidays

Now that the holiday season is here, parents are wondering whether to issue invitations to estranged adult children.

In many cases, the simple answer is No. Don’t invite them home for the holidays. Allowing your adult child to make his own plans, and to take the initiative to reach out to you if he wants to get together, is often best. Especially if you’ve received an explicit request for no contact.

Sometimes it’s not clear-cut. If the estrangement is only a few months old, for example, you might not know how she plans to approach the holidays. Maybe she’s not sure yet herself.

Or say there’s been some progress this year in a longer-term estrangement. Would an invitation now be welcome?

What if you’re not even certain you’re estranged?

Start With What You Want

You didn’t ask for estrangement, but you can control some of how it lands on you. So the very first question to ask during an unwanted estrangement as the holidays approach may be, “What do I want?”

How would you like the holidays to look and feel this year? If you could have exactly what you want, how much time would you choose to spend in the presence of your estranged adult child(ren)?

Before you answer that, consider this: Based on your recent experience with them, how likely are you to find joy and peace in their presence?

When you think about an adult child who’s currently estranged, picture them as they are today. That’s who you’d be inviting to share the holidays with you. Not the adorable ten-year-old they used to be.

Some parents are frankly nervous to be around an estranged adult child and/or his spouse or partner. And understandably so.

Relationship difficulties don’t go away at the holidays; they can even be made worse by the pressures of festive togetherness. How prepared do you feel for awkwardness, tension or conflict these days?

If you don’t feel strong or peaceful enough to come face to face with your actual adult child in her current state of emotional distance, then you might want to rethink that invitation.

Give Yourself Room

Not feeling up to spending time with your adult child(ren) does not make you a bad person, or even a bad parent. It makes you honest.

Too much trouble in relationships is caused by people not being honest with themselves about their feelings.

It’s often better not to invite someone than to issue a half-hearted invitation and then feel bruised when they don’t respond. Or worse, they do show up but make you miserable some other way.

Honor your feelings. Whatever you’re experiencing is not wrong. You feel the way you do for very good reasons, and even though you might wish to feel differently, that just makes it all the more important to be kind to yourself.

Remember, we don’t get to choose our emotions. If we did, wouldn’t you choose to be happy and fulfilled, no matter what? I would.

Even if you’re not moved to invite your child(ren) this year, you might be tempted to do it anyway — especially if you’re worried about creating or reinforcing an unwanted routine for the holidays.

But wait! If you’re not getting together this year, does that mean you’ll never get together again? What a sad thought. The answer, fortunately, is no.

Feelings of despair and loss are normal for people living with estrangement during the holidays. It’s appropriate to make room for those feelings. But don’t let them cloud your reasoning.

This year’s holidays have nothing to say about next year’s, or the year after that.

This year, your holiday plans reflect the current state of the relationship. The same thing will be true next year… But next year’s relationship has yet to be forged.

Relationships, even with family, are subject to change. That can be a positive thing if you don’t like how things are going right now.

So whatever you decide to do about invitations, remember that you’re not making a “forever” decision. It’s just for this time.

Ask yourself what you really want; then take positive action to give yourself the holiday you desire.

Respect Yourself

Finally, a tip: If you do decide to invite estranged family members to an event, don’t allow yourself to be left hanging.

Let them know what’s happening and who’s involved, but not the exact location or time.

E.g., “We’re getting together with Marty and the twins for dinner and board games a few days before Christmas. We’d love to have you join us so please let us know if you’re interested and we’ll send you the details.”

The “what” and the “who” may be helpful to them in deciding whether to participate. But without knowing where and when, they can’t just show up. So if they don’t RSVP and ask for details, you’re less likely to have to sit there when the time comes, wondering whether they’re coming.

This way, you can extend an invitation without ignoring your own needs.

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