Estranged From Family at the Holidays: 7 Ways to Cope

Estranged From the Holidays: 7 Ways to Cope

Are you estranged from family this holiday? Or maybe you are dealing with a family rift. I know how you feel. I spent 7 years estranged from my family, and it was awful. Frankly, it sucked. The holidays were the worst because they reminded me things were not right in my life.

And I felt powerless to change it or make it go away. Instead, I suffered silently.

Some of you know exactly what I mean. You may not be estranged, but you have serious problems in your family of origin. Perhaps a rift between siblings, parents, or cousins.

Whatever the problems, it is hard for you to celebrate the holidays because of a strain or a complete family break from those who you used to call family.

In this post, I am going to talk about how it feels to be estranged from family during the holidays, and some tips to help you manage through the season. Of course, the best plan of action would be to reconcile, but if this is not possible, there are some ways to help you survive the next couple of months.

Estranged from Family at the Holidays

If you have family issues, you know how bad it feels to be estranged at the holidays. For me, the holidays didn’t just reinforce loss, there was always a good amount of shame that slapped me in the face for about three months.

From October to December, I swallowed my heart and held my nose through all the good cheer. For many years, I tolerated the holidays, hoping it would end and fast.

Don’t get me wrong, I created family memories with my kids, decorated, sang all the songs, and ate my fair share of turkey and pumpkin pie. But the shame lurked deep in the recesses of my soul, reminding me my family was broken. I felt broken, too. I missed family members, and it hurt.

Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart-

 Purchase your ebook or paperback on Amazon or at your favorite digital store. 

It hurt more than you can imagine.

RELATED: Estranged: When Your Family Falls Apart

When friends would ask what I was doing on the Big Day, I always felt the need to make my life sound extra happy and fun. And that I was doing just fine. I hid the fact that I was angry and even depressed about the hole that was in my heart.

I spent many hours replaying (obsessing) the last days before the family break, never quite understanding how things got so bad.

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Estranged From the Holidays: 7 Ways to Cope

And then all the lies started…

Unfortunately, all the garbage I believed about myself rolled around in my head, telling me things that were not true. Feelings of rejection, abandonment, and aloneness penetrated my heart and sent me to places I never wish to go again.

Those horrible thoughts of inadequacy and shame day after day relentlessly accused me of my failure while everyone else was singing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”

There was very little joy in my world and my nights were silent. And I felt like there was no hope of it ever getting better. There were days I wanted to stuff the Elf on the Shelf in the freezer and call it quits.  It wasn’t until I started doing some of these suggestions  I list below that I felt relief.

Especially volunteering. That helped the most.

This song is absolutely beautiful. I think it says what many can not verbalize in words.

RELATED: Estranged: 3 Things You Lose When Your Family Stops Talking

After seven years of being estranged,  I decided to fervently pray and fast. I asked God to help me get back to my family.

I prayed 2016 would be the last Christmas I would spend estranged. Miraculously, God answered my prayers. Strangely, it was the misery of the holidays that pushed me to get serious about my situation.

In 2017, I reconciled with my family. and, subsequently, spent Christmas with them last year. It was a joyous time. God came through in a big way.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t just one day we started talking, and all was well.

There were a few miracles that put us back together. And we have had to work through some things and swallow our pride. More importantly, we have all worked on forgiveness.

RELATED: My Story

Estranged From the Holidays: 7 Ways to Cope-Mom Remade- Are you estranged from your family? Or maybe you have a family rift. Do let the pain of your family break destroy your holidays. Learn how to make the best of your situation with these tips. #estranged #familybreak #estrangedfamily #familyproblems #problems #estrangedatholidays

For those of you who are not at this point yet, there are some ways to make the best of the holidays. I learned how to create good family memories with my own family. I didn’t want my broken heart to sour things for everyone else. There are some things you can do to reverse the pain.

Things to Do When Estranged from Family at the Holidays

1. Focus on others

My husband and kids started feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving morning. It was such a great way to start the day. It became a meaningful time for us, and it set the tone for the day.

We did other volunteer projects, but this was really special. Focusing on others helped me to realize how much I had to be grateful for. And it helped me not to obsess on my family break.

2. Attend church services

Advent is such a great time to bond as a family and focus on the real reason for the season. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the holidays without my faith.

3. Pray

I prayed during the 2016 holidays that it would be the last holiday I would spend without my family. God was gracious and answered my prayers. Whether you reconcile or not, prayer is the only thing that can change things.

4. Live

It is important to live your life…move forward.  Give yourself permission to smile and celebrate the season. There is no point in ruining everyone else’s holiday because you are sad. Tuck those feeling away, and save it for your journal.

5. Process your feelings

Put your feelings down on paper. Write through the pain. It is a healthy way to process your feelings about the holidays. If you don’t want to journal, talk with someone. If you are really bitter, talk to a counselor.

6. Create a family of choice

Find another family or friends to do things with during the holidays. You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends.

7. Make your own family memories

Start your own family traditions. Make the season something that you and your family look forward to every year. I found this to be difficult the first year or two, but then it became easier after the traditions were in place for several years. My kids helped make the season fun because of their excitement.

RELATED: 33 Ways to Bring Your Family Together at the Holidays

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Estranged From the Holidays: 7 Ways to CopeThere are many other things you can do to get through the holidays, but I found these things most helpful. My prayers go out to you and those you love. I know how hard it is to get through these couple of months.

God loves you. You are not alone. He will never leave you or forsake you.

Check out these verses. They will encourage you through a difficult time. I pray you will make the most of your holidays and live your life to the fullest. May God’s love shine on you during this most difficult time.

What do you do to get through the holidays?

Book on Family Estrangement from a Christian Point of View

Are you experiencing family problems? Perhaps you and a loved one are no longer speaking. Don’t go another day without reading this book. It addresses family problems and estrangement from a biblical point of view. Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart is on Amazon or in your favorite digital store. 

Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart book.

Get Creating Family Memories for FREE in exchange for your email. If you get this book, it will help you build a good relationship with your kids so that when the hard times come (teen years), you will be able to weather the storm.

Scroll down or look to the side to sign up. You can also get it at your favorite digital bookstore.

Facebook Group

Continue the conversation on Facebook and join the group Christian Parenting and Family. This is a place for moms with preschool age kids or older to talk about their struggles with parenting, family life, education, or marriage. You will find biblically based advise from other moms who want to raise godly kids.

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53 Comments

  1. cHoek on June 30, 2019 at 6:31 pm

    I know this is an older post, but this is something that is all to familiar to me. My mother has been estranged for many years and many times I just don’t see a bath back to reconciliation this side of heaven. She has severed ties with all family and suffers from what I believe to be borderline personality disorder. I reach out to her occasionally via email through out the year and I went to see her last year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was so bitter. Refuses to see me but blames me for not being a part of my life or knowing my children. It’s embarrassing to be a Christian but to have these rifts. It’s embarassing to live 20 minutes away from a parent but to not have seen them in 15-20 years. When I saw her last, I said that I was sorry she had been hurt and that I missed her and she said “You see, how you turn this around on me” If I hadn’t of been bawling, I probably would have laughed. I also have broken relationships with 2 of 3 adult siblings.

    There is so much shame in being estranged. I have really struggled with self worth in the past even thinking that every thing is my fault and that I’m a wrecking ball where ever I go. 4 years ago I was struggling with chronic illness and had become very selfish and wrapped up in survival mode. I was hurtful to the people around me and I had a blow out with my MIL. We were close friends and this rift has still not healed. In fact it spread to other family members and she shared her hurt and anger with other adult siblings. So I couldn’t help but think… I did it again. These thoughts still sometimes creep in but my husband assures me that things were said on both sides and that we took from the situation what we needed to work on and that’s all we can be responsible for. We have tried to put healthy boundaries in place, but they have been viewed as being shut out. Ie my childrens activities had several uncomfortable comments and gave me extreme anxiety so instead of inviting them to every game, maybe we invite them to 1 or 2. I just feel an immense pressure to prove to people that I am not a bad person. I feel in all of my rifts that I am made to feel like it’s entirely my fault, entirely my responsibility to fix it but no one else wants to put any effort in but still continue to blame me. It’s been very difficult and we do our best to enjoy the holidays – having young children certainly make this easier. We’ve also created a haven among friends but this is frowned upon by our family when we choose to spend time with people who actually like me. Very difficult. I really have tried to improve what I felt was my role in all situations but there are still consequences for sin even after apologizing. I just pray for everyone going through this that you will honestly evaluate your role in the rift, forgive your self, stop contributing to the problem through gossip or adding more hurtful words. I think boundaries are ok as long as they aren’t used to punish – this is a fine line I struggle with. Try not to let the guilt and pain swallow you.

  2. Edith on December 22, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Very thoughtful post. In addition to the other wonderful suggestions, I like the one about “Creating a family of choice.” It reminds me of how we often call our friends, sisters or brothers from another mother. While we pray for God’s intervention in our family issues, we can have great times with another family that we care for. Do have a merry Christmas!

    • Julie Plagens on December 27, 2018 at 11:08 pm

      Thanks so much. I hope you have a fabulous Christmas, too. The holidays can be pretty rough, but friends can make the time great. Pray does change things. I know first hand.

  3. […] if you ask for it. Sometimes, it doesn’t come immediately. We have to be persistent. Here’s an amazing article on coping with being in these […]

  4. Jenny Silva on December 7, 2018 at 11:46 am

    I think the holidays really bring this out in us. We finally decided to allow my sister’s boyfriend to come around. Hasn’t happened yet but the relationship with my sister has become a little better since the olive branch has been given out. Glad you’re back to good terms with your family.

    • Julie Plagens on December 27, 2018 at 11:10 pm

      Jenny, I hope your Christmas has turned out great. Good for you for extending an olive branch. I hope this will make a difference.

  5. Sherry on December 6, 2018 at 10:10 am

    This is an important post! There is so much information out there about the peace holiday seasons bring, but this is not the case for many who holidays are the most difficult time to endure. I remember stopping at a pharmacy last year on Christmas day. One lady asked the cashier, “Don’t you wish you were home celebrating today?” The cashier replied, “No, I was the first to state I was available to work today.” The way it was stated indicated she had her reasons for asking to work Christmas day.

    • Julie Plagens on December 27, 2018 at 11:12 pm

      Oh, how sad. It is hard on so many people this time of year. It is supposed to be wonderful, but it can get muddied when the family is a mess. I hope the lady in the pharmacy had a better holiday this year.

  6. Cindy on December 6, 2018 at 8:19 am

    Thanks for sharing these tips. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be estranged from loved ones during the holidays.

    • Julie Plagens on December 27, 2018 at 11:13 pm

      Yeah, I am glad it is over. I hated all the family reminders. It just reminded me my family was not functioning. I am glad to be back.

  7. Christine Wildman on December 3, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Having lived in a family with the SECRET of SA – me being the one that had to hold that secret…and when my memories returned…and I requested reconciliation, instead, I received ostracizations and such. My daughters have thanked me for protecting them from their grandfather. My sons grew up to meet him, but didn’t like him. Both my mom’s side and my dad’s side turned their backs on me.
    We have issues on the other side as well.
    That side caused problems with our adult children hearing lies, and being turned against me.
    This year, I’ve had four of the five of our children back in our lives. One left to go! And God is not going to let me down! Thank you for sharing! I’d like to share this link on my blog…at least in my Advent at the WildBerry Patch fb group…so many need this!

  8. Suzanne on December 1, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Being estranged from family doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something not right in your life. Perhaps it’s them and that they’re assholes. No amount of praying can fix that.

    • Julie Plagens on December 2, 2018 at 10:32 am

      I hear your point but there are a few things I would like to add:
      1.) No matter how bad or dysfunctional the situation, God is bigger. And he answers prayers. He may or may not bring reconciliation to the situation, but He can bring healing through forgiveness. Look at Elizabeth Smart. She is a walking miracle. My situation was not of that nature but it was definitely dysfunctional.
      2.) The feeling of “things not being right in my life” was because I harbored unforgiveness, hatred, and bitterness. That was my side of the coin. And it took years to work through it. I am free now because I have forgiven. I am not responsible for other’s behavior, only mine. Each has to examine his own heart.
      3.) I was really grieved because I had to set such tight boundaries with my parents at the time. It felt unnatural and it was extremely hard. The best way to describe it is that it felt like there was something that was outstanding that I could not get closure on–ever. Like a death with no burial. Or something precious lost and never to be found. It stayed in the back of my head all the time. And I felt shame for it not being right especially as a Christian no matter where the fault lay.

      I hope this helps explain my thoughts a little better.

  9. Kat on December 1, 2018 at 8:34 am

    What do you recommend for parents and siblings of the adult child who has estranged? Shou,d we continue to reach out occasionally? We are heartbroken and still don’t quite understand why our beloved son and DIL have walked away. We. Are praying for God to heal our family.

    • Julie Plagens on December 2, 2018 at 10:59 am

      Hi Kat,
      Each situation is so different. I can tell you what made the difference is that pride, anger, and unforgiveness had to be left at the door. Eventually, they were willing to say they were sorry for the part they played. And now they are adhering to the boundaries I have set in the relationship. I had to work on a few things on my end, too. It wasn’t one way.

      If you have not truly heard your kids and the problem, you will never be able to fix it or really know how to behave.

      FYI: Many times it is control that is being played out in some form or fashion. Ask yourself if you have given unsolicited advice, verbally disapproved of decisions they have made, manipulated situations, used money to control, interfered in their marriage or raising of the children. Do you punish or retaliate in some way? Addictions can also play a huge role in estrangement. You can only work on you. That is where the change starts. Not with them. You.

      In the same manner, I could only work on me. I had to realize I can change no one else, but me.

      If there is no contact, I would adhere to the boundaries without fail. And start praying and fasting. That is what broke the situation in my family.

      Work on yourself in the meantime. Pray Psalms 19:12-14 which asks God to reveal hidden faults you can’t see.

      • Elle on December 2, 2018 at 4:39 pm

        My husband and I are estranged from his family. It is a very dysfunctional family with emotional abuse and family a business rampant with pride, greed, envy, lies and a means to have control over us financially.We had enough and stood up for ourselves, left the company and shined a light on the illegal things going on in the biz. With the help of a Christian therapist, we created a healthy boundary and explained to his parents that unless we can have an adult conversation without blame, judgement, condemning, etc and discuss the role EVERYONE had in getting to our current situation, we need to remove ourselves and children from the family. They refused. Said only we are to blame, there is nothing to talk about and they pray “our heads get right” and are upset because of “what “our”(their high society friends) must think. They are now actively trying to financially harm us and our family due to what I presume is just anger and so we have no choice but to grovel back to them and give into their ways, albeit sinful and against our morals.

        Oddly enough, my husband has never been happier even through all this. We began daily bible reading and actively serving in our church. Through prayer, we have both forgiven them and his siblings (Also in business) for what they’ve done. We pray they get convicted by the Holy Spirit and their eyes are opened.

        I am so conflicted and I don’t know why. I feel family is SO important but
        1) we’ve put our pride aside and taken a good hard look at ourselves and our role. Offered apology, it was refused.
        2) Husband is so much happier, like a weight is lifted and he has freedom! Realized his worth is from his Heavenly Father and NO ONE else and no amount of $$.

        We are stronger in our marriage and faith than ever before. We’re dealing with people intent on harming us and seeking a sort of vengeance for standing up for what’s right, albeit hard.

        Again, Family is so important, but maybe sometimes estrangement can be a good thing, and I pray that because of this they too are led to Jesus

        • Julie Plagens on February 15, 2019 at 8:12 pm

          Elle, I was estranged for 7 years. And it was a good thing for me at the time. I am glad God brought us back together as hearts have been changed on both sides. I am so sorry you are experiencing this terrible thing. I will be praying for you and your family. It is truly heartbreaking. Keep praying and I suggest fasting. That is what broke things with my family.

  10. K.A. Wypych on November 30, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    This was wonderful! And, I’m happy to hear you were able to work things out with your family. The list is also a great list for singles or those who live away from their families. It’s good to start building traditions where you currently are!

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:27 pm

      Thanks for your sweet comment. Yes, it is great to start building traditions with the family.

  11. Debby on November 29, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    It is awesome that you have been able to reconcile with your family and I hope many others are able to do this. Families all have problems but figuring out how to get past them can be important to everyone’s mental health.

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:29 pm

      I am so happy to reconcile with my family. Family breaks are horrible. I am glad it is all over now.

  12. Alaina Monster on November 29, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    This is such a hard time of year for families that have broken apart. I’m glad to read that you got through it. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences so others can get through too. <3

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:30 pm

      Yes, the holidays are a hard time of year for many people. There is nothing anyone can really do to fix things unless people start talking. Everyone has to swallow his pride and listen.

  13. Tala Valino on November 28, 2018 at 5:31 am

    I’m so happy for you that you were able to reconcile with your family and thank you for sharing your experience. I agree if all else fail, just pray and everything will be alright in the end. 🙂

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:32 pm

      Prayer works! It is the only thing that really moves things. Family estrangement is hard to change without God.

  14. Mommy Sigrid on November 28, 2018 at 2:47 am

    This hits closest to my heart. This is the first Christmas that I don’t want to spend with my parents. I am now 43 years old. I just realized that my family is not normal and I am a victim of emotional abuse. I just woke up to it and realized it and I don’t want that anymore. I want to change the mechanics with my own kids and become a better mother. But I need healing and seeing my folks for the holidays will just not help me.

    • Julie Plagens on February 15, 2019 at 8:15 pm

      Sigrid, I just saw this. I am so sorry you are going through this. I pray you will make the time to work on your own heart as this is the only thing you can change. I was really angry and needed to unravel what happened to me. I don’t know where you are in the situation now, but when there is abuse, it is not so simple. I am praying for you to know how to proceed so you can get true healing.

  15. aisasami on November 27, 2018 at 9:23 am

    I am going back to my parent’s home for the holidays and hope it will be a great time. We don’t see eye-to-eye sometimes.

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:33 pm

      Yes, I hope you will have a good time with your family and there will be no strains. Even a rift is hard.

  16. alison on November 27, 2018 at 8:22 am

    It is a very hard thing to be estranged from your family, I too have had this. However, in the end all you have is family. So happy you reconciled and found ways to deal with the pain through bettering yourself.

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:36 pm

      I am sorry you have experienced this, too. A family is important. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  17. Rosey on November 27, 2018 at 12:29 am

    I’m glad you sought God in prayer to help fix it. It’s amazing how wonderfully he can put things in order for us when we ask. 🙂

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:38 pm

      Prayer is the best way to break through all of the pain and pride. I don’t know how one can get through a family break or family rift without God.

  18. Alejandra Graf on November 26, 2018 at 10:08 am

    As I grow older I feel blessed and appreciate more than my family has always been together. But I have a lot of friends that will find your post so useful. Thanks for the great ideas and reflexions.

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:42 pm

      I am so glad that you have not had any difficulty with your family. What a great blessing. Thanks for your comment.

  19. abby hewes on November 26, 2018 at 2:05 am

    This is such a well-written and heart-felt post. Thanks for taking the time to write this post.

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:43 pm

      It was definitely a heartfelt post. I am so glad to share my story because it will help lots of people.

  20. Reika Misaki on November 25, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    I love your views on things! It’s also a great way to pray for everything! God will do the work and help us get through things! Thank you for sharing this!

    • Julie Plagens on November 30, 2018 at 10:47 pm

      I think prayer is the only thing that really works. I am glad there is a God who loves us and hears our cries.

  21. Latte Lindsay on November 25, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    It’s hard when families don’t get on and don’t see each other. But I suppose we can only hope and try to work things out.

    • Julie Plagens on November 25, 2018 at 7:11 pm

      Yes, it is important to work things through before a family rift goes into an all-out estrangement. Most of the time, it means swallowing pride and admitting wrongs. That is not easy for most people.

  22. Niladri on November 25, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    This is really an awesome Post . Loved your views and thought process . Incredible Work.

    • Julie Plagens on November 25, 2018 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks for saying this. And yes, you hit it right on. It is work. A lot of work. It requires a huge amount of introspection and changing in ways that are not comfortable or easy. But the alternative is to just stay estranged which is not easy either.

  23. Nicole Gilbert on November 25, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    While I’ve never been formally estranged from family, I have been forced to spend holidays with those that I’ve had considerable bad feelings towards. It puts such a pall over the events.

    • Julie Plagens on November 25, 2018 at 7:16 pm

      I am so sorry. It is a miserable experience attending family gatherings that are uncomfortable and maybe even abusive. Sometimes people say and do such thoughtless things without even realizing it. I hope you will find joy in the season despite the family irritations.

  24. Jessica on November 25, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    The holidays are notorious for being a period of time that individuals are more likely to be depressed without family or anxious around them. I think there was a deep reason why you wrote estranged and needed that time to heal and to miss them. It is awesome that you all have reconciled!

    • Julie Plagens on November 25, 2018 at 7:18 pm

      Yes, I needed to be away for a long time before I realized I missed them. The first couple of years were nice, but eventually, it became embarrassing and heartbreaking. I am glad there was a path back after so many bridges had been burned.

  25. Monidipa Dutta on November 25, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Estrangement from a parent or an adult child is painful every day of the year but it can be especially difficult during the holidays. With visions of family togetherness all around you, all you can see are the empty chair, the memories of when times were so different.

    • Julie Plagens on November 25, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      Yes, it is painful. Estrangement during the holidays is in some ways peaceful because there is no fighting, but then it is awful because there is a huge hole in the family. And nothing can fill it but reconciliation.

  26. Niladri on November 25, 2018 at 11:02 am

    This post is really awesome and thoughtful. I loved your thoughts and the way you have presented it.

    • Julie Plagens on November 25, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      Thanks for saying this. I appreciate your comment.

  27. Sydney on November 25, 2018 at 9:12 am

    Thank you for sharing this. For some, being with family during the holidays is not always possible. It can prove to be difficult to spend the holidays without family.

    • Julie Plagens on November 25, 2018 at 7:33 pm

      Yes, family breaks are really hard. I know there are many families that will be experiencing it this holiday. I hope I can offer some ways to cope with it. I wish there were a magic pill or a few words that would make it all better. Unfortunately, it is so complicated. Each situation is different and messy.

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