5 Holiday Survival Tips for Brokenhearted Parents

Dena YoheBy Dena Yohe7 Minutes

“I hate the holidays! I used to love them but now I dread them.”

Thanksgiving and Christmas are hard when you’re a brokenhearted parent. Already struggling to get through ordinary days, these moms and dads must figure out how to survive the holidays because of one or more troubled children. Depressed over their son or daughter’s destructive choices and problems (alcohol or drugs, mental illness, gender dysphoria, pornography, self-harm, legal troubles, etc.), they do not look forward to this time of year. Terrified their troubles will never end how can they enjoy themselves?

When my daughter struggled with alcohol, cutting, and mental illness, I yearned to fast forward to mid-January. Celebrating Christmas or New Year’s was the last thing I wanted to do. Can you relate?

Parents like us aren’t jolly or festive. Lacking the energy to pretend, all we can think about is how unhappy we are, how God hasn’t answered our prayers, and how drained we are from the battle. Christmas songs that previously brought laughter and smiles now bring tears and sighs. When least expected, we’re blindsided while shopping in a store. Decorating isn’t even on our radar. Items we’ve collected over the years stir up bittersweet memories of better days. Christmas photo cards produce jealous longing. And holiday parties? No thank you.

My husband and I discovered five tips that helped us survive. Maybe they will help you.

5 Holiday Survival Tips

1. Lower expectations – this helps you be more content with how your holidays pan out. Your child might be pleasant, call, send a card, or bring a gift. On the other hand, you might not even see or hear from them. Do your best to let go of your hopes, then if anything good happens, enjoy the surprise.

2. Consider doing things differently – if former traditions will make you sadder or be too difficult, don’t observe them. Create a new plan. Do whatever will be easier, regardless of what your child does or doesn’t do. You will have a simpler, less stressful holiday.

3. Avoid social media – hearing about others’ happy homecomings and seeing their photos of family gatherings can intensify your pain. Comparison robs us of joy and peace. Why not take a break from Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or wherever you spend time? You might even decide not to return for the sake of your emotional well-being.

4. Focus on others – look for a way to help someone in need. Depression and loneliness abound these days. Generosity and kindness are natural mood lifters. Keep it simple. Ask God for ideas: send a card, make a phone call, or take a small gift. Shifting the attention from yourself to someone else raises your spirits in return.

5. Be grateful – express thanks to God no matter how you feel. Start a gratitude list or journal. Set a goal to add one item each day. Be sure to note small matters, not only big ones: a delicious cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset, etc. On difficult days, look back over your entries. They will be a source of encouragement as you recall God’s blessings.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” — Anonymous

Encouragement from the Bible

Our heavenly Father doesn’t want us depressed, anxious, or distressed. But He understands how we are affected when our children struggle, especially during the holidays. Practicing these five tips requires a strong level of trust and belief in a God who is sovereign and good no matter what He allows in our lives. We need divine aid. The following verse has helped me on more than one occasion.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17-19a, NIV).

The situation looked hopeless, yet Habakkuk the prophet made a choice to do what made no sense: rejoice and be joyful in the Lord. How?

Relentless trust in his Savior.

Reaping the Benefits

Dear parent, if you can lower your expectations, consider doing things differently, take a break from social media, focus on others, and choose gratitude, you will increase the likelihood of reaping the benefits. More contentment and peace could be yours. Oh, how you need them.

But those aren’t the only benefits. God will also help you choose joy — a joy not contingent upon circumstances. A supernatural gladness that comes from Him yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Joy was found in God.

What about you? Does this sound impossible? Despite the circumstances with your child, if you take steps today to apply my five holiday survival tips, you won’t hate this time of year any longer. Instead, you will grow a deeper appreciation for the goodness of God not only during this season, but all year long.

Why not ask Him for help and see what happens?

Which tip do you want to try?