Holiday Survival Guide

holiday helpThe holidays can be one of the toughest times of the year for parents estranged from adult children and grandchildren.

It may be tempting to ignore, avoid, or downplay the holidays.

You might go away on vacation.

You might take on heaps of volunteer service to keep busy.

Or you might just put your head under the covers and wait for the new year.

It’s not easy to escape the holidays. So this newsletter contains 7 ideas to help see you through a potentially difficult time of the year.

Holiday Tips

1. Send a card

Assuming you haven’t received specific no-contact instructions, here are some tips on sending your card. (If you’ve been asked for no contact, sending nothing is probably your best strategy.)

If you have their address…

Whether you usually send gifts, a card, or nothing at all, keep it simple and send a card this year.

If you’ve sent gifts before that haven’t been acknowledged, definitely just send a card. Why send gifts to people who don’t appreciate them?

A card is the middle ground between too much and not enough contact.

Hot tip: Choose a card that reflects something about your child.

If she’s a dog lover, find a card with a dog on it.

If he’s into social justice, buy a card that sends part of the proceeds to a cause he’s excited about.

If she’s an entomologist, get her a card with an insect on it… Or in it? No, scratch that.

(I actually found insect-inspired greeting cards here. You can find anything on the Internet!)

Obviously, it’s hard to find Christmas cards that feature insects, mountain climbing, glass blowing, etc.

But fortunately, your card doesn’t have to be a holiday-themed card. It can simply be blank inside.

If you don’t have their address…

Send an email with a VERY simple subject line, e.g. “Happy Hanukkah” or “Thinking of you.”

In an email you can still include a photo your child might appreciate. You can find millions of images online at

(Don’t have ANY way to contact your child? See #2 below.)

In either case…

Whether it’s a snail-mail card or an email, keep your message short and very sweet, e.g. “Just a note to wish you a very happy holiday season, with much love from Mom and Dad.”

This is not the time to express your real feelings, if different. Just send love, cheer, and goodwill.

2. Create a ritual

You might have survived the holidays without your child before, and found a way to get through them.

If you have something that works for you — e.g., the vacation, volunteer work, or extra napping mentioned above — use it.

If this is your first time or you don’t know how you’ll handle the holidays without hearing from them, consider creating a ritual to honor your relationship with your absent child.

Rituals help us cope with grief and other difficult feelings by giving them a place in our lives.

Having a ritual concerning your estranged child not only provides an outlet for your feelings, but can also help process and contain those feelings.

One example of a ritual might be singing your child’s favorite Christmas carol, and dedicating the moment to your child.

Another might be to light a candle for your child and focus your thoughts on him or her while it’s burning.

Try to create a ritual that has time boundaries like those above, rather than, say, placing an empty chair at the table for your child and leaving it there throughout the season.

The latter is a constant peripheral reminder rather than a focused ritual. It won’t have the same positive impact.

Holiday rituals help to define losses and contain them. This makes room for other aspects of the holidays — ones you might appreciate and enjoy.

3. Give to Others

Being of service to others can be a soothing balm when your heart is hurting, but only if you’re genuinely up for it.

If you feel drained, exhausted, or overwhelmed this month, volunteering could be just another “to do” in a long list of obligations.

However, if you’re at loose ends and have a little extra time and/or energy, consider finding a way to help someone less fortunate than yourself.

Don’t overdo it.

Volunteering can become drudgery if you spend too much of your time and energy on it. Start with a couple of hours a week and see how you feel.

4. Give to yourself

If the holidays are hard for you this year, isn’t that a good reason to be extra kind and generous with yourself?

Ask yourself what would bring you a little bit (or a lot) of pleasure.

Do you need a day off, to do absolutely nothing?

Would you enjoy a nice meal at your favorite restaurant?

How about planning a get-away for early next year?

Gifts aren’t just for other people. You deserve to receive as well.

Can’t think of anything that would make you happy?

Ask yourself this: Is there something in your home that’s broken, and in need of repair? Repair or replace it this month.

However you do it, make sure to stay at the top of your own priority list right now. Don’t skimp on self-compassion.

5. Start the new year early

Why wait till the last minute to usher in the new year, with its promise of new beginnings?

If you have changes you’d like to see in your life, you’re allowed to start working on them now.

This will take you out of the waiting game and put you in the driver’s seat.

Start an exercise regimen today. Create your new budget. Sign up for a class that begins in January. Start building a website for your business, or revamp your old site this month.

In any given moment, at any time of year, you can take control of your experience.

Decide right this minute to spend at least some of your time doing something productive, meaningful, or fun.

Don’t wait till the new year; remember that every day begins a new year.

6. Say No

Just because you’ve always done X, Y, or Z before doesn’t mean you have to do it this year.

Do others expect you to do something every year that you frankly don’t enjoy doing? Calmly let them know you’re taking yourself off the hook this time.

Some examples:

  • Putting up lights/decorations
  • Cooking
  • Buying or wrapping gifts
  • Providing housing or transportation
  • Hosting a party or other event
  • Traveling

This year, let someone else do it, hire someone to do it, or agree that it doesn’t have to get done.

7. Let yourself enjoy the holidays

Even if you’d rather they didn’t, the holidays will happen with or without you.

Maybe it feels wrong to enjoy yourself. You may find yourself in the middle of a smile, when a sadness creeps over you.

Letting yourself forget the pain for a while doesn’t mean you don’t love your child(ren), or that you’ve given up on them.

It means you’re alive.

When you allow yourself to live your life despite your child’s absence…

When you open your heart to spontaneous moments of joy and gratitude…

you don’t lose a thing.

Grieving your relationship with your child won’t keep them close.

Refusing to let yourself be happy till they’re back won’t draw them to you. It only robs you of this moment.

Deciding to let yourself be open to life, even (especially?) during the holidays… that gives you something back that you might have thought you lost.

Allow joy in, if it wants to come in. Feeling pleasure can help you cope with and heal the estrangement.

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