Holiday

Are you Struggling This Holiday Season? You are Not Alone.

It happens during most big milestones and every holiday season. I made it through my wedding, becoming a mother not once but twice, and almost 800 days of my daughter’s cancer treatment without the support of parents of my own. So you’d think the holidays wouldn’t hit so hard, but they still do. Each year, I am forced to face the fact that I do not have my parents in my life. And while there’s so much to be grateful for, it hurts. It’s sad and lonely. I wish things were different, but if you have any narcissists in your family, you know how hard it is. The only way to cope, for me, has been to go no-contact. 

 

Are you Struggling This Holiday Season? You are Not Alone.

 

These struggles are something I delve into in my newsletter since it feels like safer and more intimate space. A few weeks ago, I talked about going no-contact, and some of the struggles that come along with that. It was a last-resort. And it was something I had to do for my mental health as woman, wife, and mother, too. And even though I’m better without toxic parents in my life, it’s still really complex. How do you grieve a relationship you didn’t really have to begin with? And more important, how do you do this after spending your life trying not to feel these things? Therapy. The answer is therapy.

The holidays seem to magnify everything. 

I remember my first Christmas with my husband’s family. It was 2015, and we had been dating for about 7 months. We all had so much fun together and I left feeling so angry and sad at the life I had lived up until that moment. At the family I was stuck with. Was this what I was missing out on? It really magnified how dysfunctional and toxic my family (really, mostly my mom since my dad played a very small role) was/is. 

Years ago, I talked about how to get through the holidays when you’re feeling sad.

But it’s just so different now. The joy my family brings is more than I ever could have hoped for. And being a mom has also brought a new pain, because I know what it feels like to love my children. I could never knowingly, purposefully hurt them. I could never not be there for them, or not have them in my life. Sadly, my mom seems to be fine with it. I’ve heard that she tells people she has two daughters and not three. But after all the damaging, painful, and manipulative things that were said and done to me throughout my life, I know this is what I need. It’s something I am actively working on in therapy, but it’s hard. And it’s lonely. 

So this is where you, my friends, come in. I asked you to share your stories. To share what you’re struggling with this holiday season, with the hopes it might make someone feel less alone. I would like to say the most heartfelt thank you to those of you who took the time to share your stories. It is my hope we can use social media and the internet to remember that so many of us are having a hard time right now. And no matter how good things might seem, we never know the whole story, so please, be kind to one another. 

 

Navigating divorced parents

It feels hard to be a grown child of divorce during the holidays. Both my parents remarried when I was quite young (under 5) and had more children. Not only has it always felt like my younger sisters from my dad’s later marriage were much closer, it also feels like the family as a whole is closer and that I’m an afterthought. The holidays make this especially hard since I know they get together separately before our actual family gatherings. As the only child from my parents marriage I often feel lonely and like I don’t quite fit in with the new dynamics, even 25 years later. 

 

Single during the holidays

The older I get, the more I struggle with the fact that I’m single at the holidays. Although I am very lucky (and grateful!) to have a close and loving immediate family that make the holidays fun, it is hard to be alone at what should be the “happiest time of the year” and the start of the New Year. Add on top of that extended family and friends asking me why I’m single or whether I have a boyfriend is like pouring salt in the wound.

 

Loss and missing a parent

Hi there! This prompt comes at a good time because out of the blue yesterday I started feeling SO down and it was really overwhelming. Maybe sharing stories will help.

I’m celebrating my first (real) Christmas season without my dad. He passed on December 2nd last year so Christmas last year was a little surreal and it hadn’t really hit yet. I never really spent Christmas with him (my parents are divorced and usually did Christmas with my mom) but the festive season + the anniversary hits hard right now. I also am a new mom to an almost 7 month old and feel guilty for not being purely blissful that this is her first holiday season & the pressure to make it perfect for her. She doesn’t know, but it matters to me!

I live in a small apartment so we can’t host our extended family for the holidays and have to go to my mom’s house for Christmas which also makes me feel inadequate as a mom – I wish I could give my daughter more. Just a lot of emotions and none of them are easy! Trying to channel it into some magic moments for my little girl and letting my joy come from her rather than the holidays themselves

Hope this helps someone – I really appreciate you sharing your story about your family. I also have a lot of toxic extended family so I’ve seen my mom make the same decisions you’ve made. It’s so hard but healthier for her in the long run as you know. 

 

IVF, hoping for a baby, and losing a pet

My husband and I have been struggling with infertility for a few years now. Last year we bought a house and in April we started our IVF journey with dreams of making the spare bedroom a nursery.  We were able to scrounge up the money between savings and help from family for two rounds of IVF but we did not end up with any embryos that could be implanted.  We’ve applied for grants and been rejected.  We’re trying to figure out if we want to go through the procedure again – physically I’d do it a million times but financially and emotionally it is draining. 

After we had our last bout of bad news, I came home from work and just laid down next to our senior rescue dog and cried. We adopted him a few months after we met and he made us a family.  A few days later we found out he had cancer and after two months, we had to say goodbye to him at 14 after only being able to spend six years with him. I feel incredibly guilty that I wasn’t able to give him a little human sibling and complete our family.  Having this all happen right before Christmas has been difficult as I’m trying to get in the spirit but I just want to sit in bed and cry.  I’m thankful for my husband and my family who have provided unconditional support but it still hurts. 

 

Grieving a sibling

I’m 28 years old and Christmas was my favorite holiday until I was 13. That was the first year my older sister (who is 12 years older than me) didn’t come home to celebrate. My first 12 Christmases were magical and honestly I don’t think there was anything wrong with our family at the time or I just wasn’t aware of it which made the year I was 13 so jarring. I haven’t seen my older sister since I was 13. She never tried to explain why she left either. Each year I have to watch everyone else in my family (my mom, my dad, and my twin sister) grieve that we’re not celebrating as a complete family. It hasn’t really gotten any easier to celebrate knowing what we are missing. 

 

Living far away from family

For me personally, I’m close with my family, but we live across the country from them. It’s bittersweet to live in a place we love but to be so far from family and their support at the holidays and in this life stage. I have a 2.5 and 5 yr old and I’m approaching the third trimester with my 3rd. It’s such a struggle to make it a magical season while managing what has been a challenging pregnancy. It doesn’t help that we recently moved to a new neighborhood and lost what little community we had and the fact that my toddlers bring home every virus imaginable! It was Covid 5 weeks ago and now the flu. The struggle is very real!

If you choose to share this, I hope it helps someone else realize we don’t all have it together like IG can make it seem. We are struggling through the holidays with illness and little to no community. Goal for the new year: build community in our new neighborhood!

 

Navigating the holidays without parents

I am 39 have have two small kids (8 yr and 5 yr). I lost my dad in 2013 and I lost my mom suddenly in 2021. Ever since then, there’s always been a part of me that feels empty at the holiday. I try to “fill” this feeling with busy — baking cookies, visiting Santa, watching holiday movies. But I’m left still feeling empty. It’s like I keep trying to fill the void but can’t. I’m also trying to keep a brave face and make the holidays magical for my two small children and build memories that we’ll share together. It feels like a constant pull between caving to the sadness and putting on a happy face and making new memories. What it ends up being is sort of messy, beautiful combination of the two.

 

Feeling left out and isolated

This time of year I struggle with the lack of representation of and empathy for households that don’t celebrate Christmas or interfaith families. I grew up in an evangelical Christian household and since my Jewish husband and I started dating ten years ago, we have struggled with how to make space for each other and honor our individual traditions. I am also no longer practicing and have a complicated relationship with Christianity and my parents. December feels very isolating, as if everyone else is living in a snow globe. I dread future holiday seasons when my daughter is old enough to notice, and we’ll have to figure out a better way to celebrate and explain why our family is different.

 

The first holiday season without mom

This is my first holiday season without my mom. She passed away in February at age 67. It was expected as she had been sick, but no one could have ever prepared me for the grief journey that is truly never ending. She was my best friend, and as I watch my daughters grow I become overwhelmed with sadness and anger that she isn’t here to be part of their lives. I feel robbed of an experience I dreamed of. I turn my focus to my daughters in these moments. Smiling through tears at their Christmas program at school or as we bake cookies. But it’s certainly a reminder that you never know what someone might be facing this holiday season.

The loss of a parent can come in many forms. At my mom’s memorial service our pastor shared something that I will never forget. He said, “You are who you love.” I immediately wrote that down because it resonated so deeply. I try to remember that she’s always a part of me, because I loved her and she loved me. We are who we love.  

 

Family trauma and parenthood

My entire immediate family struggles with substance abuse; I have a complicated relationship with them all. My mother had a traumatic life and I’ve learned to accept that she did her best but that it’s ok if that still wasn’t good enough to meet all my needs. I was sent to be raised by my grandparents when I was 6, it caused a lot of abandonment issues and I’ve had terrible self-esteem that I’ve learned to build up over the years. I’ve struggled with maintaining boundaries and keeping my family at arms length, but it helps that we live far away from each other.

My mother passed away about a month ago after neglecting her health for many, many years. It was intense and traumatic to watch her go through it all. I feel as though all the progress I’ve made in therapy over the years is being shaken. I’m a new mom; my son was born in April and my mother never met him. She was so excited to meet him and know him one day, whenever we felt it was safe enough to travel with him.

“I find myself struggling with grief and the baby stage.”

Each day, I am told how easy and smiley my son is. And I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am. I am so grateful for my beautiful and healthy son, I’m also just struggling to accept that I’ve now lost both my parents. I’m in therapy weekly, I take medication, and I have an incredible fiancé who supports me. Despite all of that, I feel isolated. We have no family here. Being a mother feels as though it’s helping me deal with my childhood but it’s having me relive it in a different way. I’ve known for a long time that I wouldn’t find the closure I needed from my family, but now that my mother has passed it feels so much more final.

 

Going no-contact

This holiday season, I’m trying to balance gratitude for the family I’ve built with sadness about the family that I no longer speak to. There’s so much shame and grief related to going no contact with your family, especially your parents. It feels especially lonely as a mother who is raising my girls without the support of my family. I’m really lucky to have wonderful in laws who treat me like one of their own kids. However, I feel really sad when I see other women talk about how their parents, especially their mothers, have supported them through their own transitions to motherhood. I wish I had that.

I try to focus on gratitude for the people in my life who love and support me and the work that I’ve put in to break the cycle for my children. I’m trying to give my daughters the supportive, happy childhood that I didn’t have. I want them to grow up feeling confident in themselves and knowing that they are loved unconditionally.

Thank you for creating this space for those of us who are experiencing grief this holiday season.

 

Not knowing where to go when your family is toxic

I think sometimes people miss that going home to family can be just as awful. For me, my extended family was the first place in this world where I wasn’t accepted. It’s where I was unfairly judged, and where I know there isn’t anyone who cares about me. Amongst friends, it’s kind of assumed you’ll spend Christmas at home, but what if home is miserable for you? What if it’s another place that’s extremely lonely? It’s the challenge of being around people and still feeling lonely that I struggle with. The pandemic holiday alone was even worse because then I knew that none of them cared that I was alone.

I’ve known I may never be worth anything because my life doesn’t look like what they deem successful, but it was heartbreaking to see that come to life a few years ago. I tell myself that this is the last year I voluntarily go, but I don’t know if that’s true. Thank you for creating a space for those of us who struggle in a season where so many have blinders of why it might be painful for some.

 

Christmas without mom

I lost my mom to cancer 3 years ago and miss her every second of every day. But this year and particularly the holiday season have been difficult. I got married this year, ran a marathon, and accomplished so many big things she missed. It’s hard to know yet another year is coming to an end that she wasn’t a part of. Each year I get further and further away from the last time she was alive. Trying to recreate our traditions with my new family, who has welcomed me with open arms, has been so lovely, it’s just not the same.

 

Toxic parents and loss 

My mom passed in October and every day is hard. I cried baking cookies the other day because I wanted to call her so badly. But I put on a brave face for my kids (4 yrs old and 6 months old). But I have no magic in me this year. I feel numb. I am dreading the actual celebration because I’m just not feeling up to it. The thing is, my mom had dementia. The last 5 years or so I’ve had to do all the work when she “hosted”. Cook all the food, wrap all the gifts, clean their house… and I hated that I had to do that.

I hated her disease. Now I’d give anything to have her micromanage me on Christmas. I’m realizing now that my mom made me not love the holiday. I was mad my mom was “gone” and it used to be her favorite. Now I’m mad because she’s actually gone. I can’t win. 

“I’ll be happy to see my daughter happy but deep down I’m struggling.”

My husbands dad is a very toxic person. He was furious with us for not acknowledging a gift that arrived during my moms last days. I was driving an hour there and back each day with my newborn and was barely functioning. He’s self centered and told my husband that he “needed a break from their relationship and he’d see him in 2023”. He’s met my son once. I wish he would just separate from him completely but he won’t. You’re doing the right thing by drawing deep boundaries.
 
Dementia took my mom slowly and made her very difficult to be around. Somehow her death still hurt despite the anticipatory grief I dealt with.

No-contact with a bipolar, narcissistic parent

I’ve been estranged from my BPD, narcissistic mother for 6 years. I was 35, married with two kids, when I finally decided enough was enough and I could no longer let her abuse that I endured my entire life spill over onto my children. My father chose to side with her, even after admitting she is abusive, and I’ve been no contact with both of them since January of 2017. I am the only daughter and my children are their only grandchildren. I struggled with extreme guilt for a long time (constant thoughts of “what kind of person cuts off their mother?” plagued me).

I went through serious grief and crippling depression. With time and (lots of!) counseling, I have realized the grief is missing what relationship I *should* have had. Not what relationship I actually did have with her. Christmas can be super hard. It’s hard remembering what was (as messed up as it was – $1000s spent on gifts for everyone but never without strings attached). It’s hard battling those guilty feelings. My advice to anyone struggling this season (and I’m not a therapist – just speaking from personal experience) is this. Allow yourself to grieve the relationship the proper amount, but try not to wallow in it.

 

“Look around for other blessings in your life. Whether it’s kids, a spouse, elderly relatives still with you, friends that are like family. Immerse yourself in the goodness of those relationships and cultivate healthy connection, communication, and traditions with them.”

It’s hard to hear people ask my kids about their Christmas plans and grandparents and my children are only able to answer about my husband’s parents. I acknowledged the sadness of my kids only having one set of grandparents. And I rejoice that they have one amazing set of grandparents active in their lives. That’s what I’ve found I have to do for me – little choices, little moments of gratitude. It’s not black and white; it’s grief and sadness mixed with joy and gratitude.

If you’re recently estranged, make sure you have a good support system to help you through this time. People who understand what you’ve been through and why you’ve had to make the decisions you made and are willing to help enforce healthy boundaries for you if needed. It DOES get easier with time, and you’re not alone.

 

Criticism, judgment, and setting boundaries

Growing up, the holidays were always complicated with my mom. She would be in a full-on control freak mode about the holidays. There was no ‘fun’ baking in the kitchen. She did not want a mess in her house. She would always try to play down the holidays on how we would be ‘scaling back’ this year on presents and decorations. This would always be and lead to a trail of pure disappointment. Not only was that hard, she was always trying to put a facade on how ‘perfect’ our family was. She wanted us to sit in the front section at church and never with my friends because it was ‘disruptive’.

Once Facebook and social media got started, I remember feeling so jealous of friends with their families, decorations and presents. In addition, my mom was constantly criticizing my body and eating habits. The holidays felt like an additional microscope and extra layers of criticism looped in. “I know you are staying away from carbs.” “Let’s take two walks today!” Or the passive aggressiveness towards relatives that she didn’t like. The holidays were hell for me for many years.
 
It felt like a breath of fresh air once I got married because there was a choice on where to go. Since being married, I’ve started to enjoy the holidays again and making memories with my husband and his extended family. I keep my mom at an arm’s length and try my best to turn around the holidays after many years of pure disappointment and deprivation. Never be afraid to set your own traditions and make the season anew. You have the power to do so.

 

Isolation, loneliness, and complicated family dynamics

I come from a divorced family, as does my husband. Figuring out the logistics of seeing everyone (some of whom don’t get along) is very hard for us. One year we hosted and literally every group was in a separate room. It was not a fun party for me. We haven’t done Christmas presents for anyone since the birth of our first son because there are just too many people to buy for (4 sets of parents, 4 siblings with their spouses, 10 nieces and nephews).
 
Doing a number Christmas gift exchange wouldn’t work because we’re literally the glue that holds this divided family together. I don’t have a great relationship with my dad, even went four years without talking. My older half sister says he has to be on the autistic spectrum (genius but can’t relate to people) but I don’t think that’s it. In his Christmas “life update newsletter” insert that goes into his Christmas cards my sister is always listed as the doctor working xyz. I’m listed as “still a stay at home mom” and that I “make Christmas shopping easy by providing wish lists with links to certain items for the kids.”
 
This year has been especially tough because of trying to keep our two month old daughter safe health-wise. Even our pediatrician who has a very laid back approach to kids getting sick told us to be extra cautious with this trifecta of respiratory illnesses circulating. Two of our parents are refusing to get their COVID boosters so we’ve been doing outside only visits with them. One set of grandparents hasn’t even met our daughter because they’ve been sick. We haven’t really been able to enjoy any Christmas activities outside the house besides driving around to see Christmas lights. Also, we haven’t had any play dates for the kids since Halloween because everyone is sick. I’m very grateful for my family and how blessed we been but this holiday season has been very isolating and lonely this year.

 
 

Making Christmas our own

Watching the big families do Christmas—it’s what you see in most holiday movies. The siblings sharing special bonds, everyone sitting around a dining table, or coffee table, laughing, playing games, drinking wine. This is the fantasy, this is the dream but it’s never been a reality for me and for that, I feel a bit robbed. Do these families really exist? I have to think they do, but it’s hard to imagine when that image is so far from your reality.

So what is Christmas without that big, dysfunctional, whole self loving family unit? Rather than continue hoping for something that will never be, my husband and me set out to create our own special family moments on Christmas. The biggest part of that—we do not travel to see our given families and we don’t let them come see us either. We settle in, the four of us, and don’t get dressed for 2 days. We watch all the movies, eat all the cookies and sweets, play with new toys and games and aim to enjoy this downtime together.

Our hope is to create a strong enough bond, a true back and forth type of love and understanding, that one day when our kids are grown they want to be together as siblings and want to be with us, too. Maybe one day, when we’re old and gray, we’ll have one of those big dysfunctional families we all love to watch on the screen.

 

Longing for a baby

Hi Danielle – Thank you for this outlet. I struggle with one more year that I don’t have a baby to hold in my arms. Infertility is overwhelming and lonely and the road feels hopeless at times. This season is full of family and kiddo content and while I want to appreciate it all, deep down it stings. I know 2023 brings new beginnings and hope but today, I’m hurting.

 

The holidays and loss of a parent

Seven years ago, I received the life-shattering call that changed my world as I knew it. My parents were in a horrific car accident, and I needed to get to the hospital immediately. Upon arrival, I learned that my mom had passed away, and my dad was in critical condition.

My mom was magic. She was my person, my number one fan, and my best friend. Not a minute goes by that I don’t think about her. She was the most selfless person I knew. With the help of my husband, family, friends and therapist, I somehow made it through the last seven years, but it certainly hasn’t been easy. As the oldest of four, I made a lot of sacrifices to care for my dad and siblings — all while raising a family of my own (I have two boys ages 5 and 2.5).

My dad made a full recovery, but unfortunately this year our relationship has suffered. This past May, my dad informed me that he got engaged to a woman I met once — another devastating blow. I question her intentions. Despite our family’s circumstances and how we lost our mom so tragically, I was completely shocked when they decided to have a 200+ person wedding (which I chose not to go to in an effort to protect my boundaries and emotional health). On top of that, just about every relative of mine is judging me for not supporting my dad. For the first time in 37 years, I won’t be seeing my dad on Christmas.

My mom made Christmas magical growing up. So…I went all out on my boys’ gifts this year. I couldn’t help it. Anytime I feel sad, I order them a small gift, wrap a gift, or do something nice for someone else. That is how I’m coping with my sadness and anxiety. After I put them to bed at night, I sneak downstairs to wrap gifts and watch a bad Hallmark Christmas movie (I swear they get cheesier every year) because it makes me feel less lonely and close to my mom.

 

Choosing to make it your own

I’m fortunate to not be struggling as much now as I have in years past. I choose not to spend Christmas with family, and I’m single so I rely on friends for company which isn’t always easy. People are often doing their own thing, or with their own families. It can be a lonely time of year, but I think that’s pretty normal. I’ve found that if I can try not to judge myself for feeling lonely, it’s not so hard. 

 

Single for the holidays

The older I get, the more I struggle with the fact that I’m single at the holidays. Although I am very lucky (and grateful!) to have a close and loving immediate family that make the holidays fun, it is hard to be alone at what should be the “happiest time of the year” and the start of the New Year. Add on top of that extended family and friends asking me why I’m single or whether I have a boyfriend is like pouring salt in the wound.

 

When your parents are divorced and you’re trying to find your way

It feels hard to be a grown child of divorce during the holidays. Both my parents remarried when I was quite young (under 5) and had more children. Not only has it always felt like my younger sisters from my dad’s later marriage were much closer, it also feels like the family as a whole is closer and that I’m an afterthought. The holidays make this especially hard since I know they get together separately before our actual family gatherings. As the only child from my parents marriage I often feel lonely and like I don’t quite fit in with the new dynamics, even 25 years later. 

 

First holiday season without mom

This is my first holiday season without my mom. She passed away in February at age 67. It was expected as she had been sick, but no one could have ever prepared me for the grief journey that is truly never ending. She was my best friend, and as I watch my daughters grow I become overwhelmed with sadness and anger that she isn’t here to be part of their lives. I feel robbed of an experience I dreamed of.
 
I turn my focus to my daughters in these moments, smiling through tears at their Christmas program at school or as we bake cookies, but it’s certainly a reminder that you never know what someone might be facing this holiday season and the loss of a parent can come in many forms. At my mom’s memorial service our pastor shared something that I will never forget. He said, “You are who you love.” I immediately wrote that down because it resonated so deeply. I try to remember that she’s always a part of me, because I loved her and she loved me. We are who we love.