Estrangement and the Holiday Season

Home for the Holidays

I love everything about the holidays. I grew up in a family that made a big deal out of it. My mom starts decorating the day after Thanksgiving and to this day, asks my brothers and me for our Christmas lists. But, the holidays aren’t easy for everyone and can be a season of anxiety and dread. If you’re one of those people, you’re not alone.

For people who are estranged from their family, you may feel like you’re the only person in the world who isn’t enjoying time with the people who love you the most. Whether you’re an adult estranged from your parents, a parent estranged from their child, or someone with limited estrangement, the feelings of hurt, loneliness, and shame can be overwhelming. No matter the situation, there are ways to make the best of things during the holiday season.

If you’re looking to reconnect with your family:
  1. “I’m sorry.” Even if you believe the blame lies solely in the hands of the other person, be the first to apologize. We all play a role in situations, so think about how your words or actions may have contributed to the estrangement. Rip the Band-Aid and say I’m sorry.
  2. Make non-threatening contact. Send an email or text message to say hello and let them know they’ve crossed your mind and you’re there. No demands. No guilt. Just friendly, non-threatening contact.
  3. Manage your expectations. You may hope for a moment that is heartfelt and leads to a joyful holiday get together and celebrate the step even if it’s not everything you thought it would be. If the person doesn’t respond with open arms, it may help them a little to know that you made the effort. Though it may not have gone the way you hoped, things may get better later on. Remain hopeful and continue to take care of yourself.
If the estrangement persists this holiday season:
  1. Don’t push. Respect the boundary your loved one sets. Your olive branch may lead to reconciliation later on.
  2. Remember what you do have. Try not to let the estrangement overshadow the good things in your life such as friends and the love of other family members. It doesn’t replace the feeling of loss you’re experiencing, but it can help.
  3. Create new traditions. Don’t spend time looking back on what can’t be changed right now. Instead, do something you’ve always wanted to do over the holidays but haven’t. Host dinner at home with a family of friends, volunteer for a charity that helps people who need a warm smile this season, accept that invitation from a friend and join his/her holiday gathering or do something nice for yourself.