“She’s just a lonely, old woman.”
That was my cousin talking about my mom a few years back just as the holidays were about to kick off.
And it was those six little words that I couldn’t get out of my head that Christmas Eve as I wrestled with the thought of having to call my mom.
If you’ve been following me long enough then you know that my mom was an alcoholic for most of her life but not only that she was also insanely violent and emotionally abusive.
For years, I’d been estranged from her (by choice) but that didn’t mean that I didn’t feel sorry for her or guilty knowing that she’d be all alone during the holidays.
Whether it was your choice or not, being estranged from a parent is difficult enough. And it can get even worse during the holiday season when everything is pointed at family and togetherness.
If you struggle to enjoy the holiday season because you feel tremendous guilt over an estranged parent then today’s post is for you.
I’ve got 4 ideas to share that come directly from my personal experiences dealing with guilt. My hope is that they’ll give you some perspective as well as that little bit of extra mental space you need to enjoy the holiday season.
As David A. Bednar once said,
Guilt is to the spirit, what pain is to the body.
So if you have any additional insights or suggestions on how to handle the heaviness of guilt, during the holiday season and beyond, please leave your thoughts in the comment section.
I’d love to hear from you.
Remember your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
Thanks in advance for reading, commenting and sharing. I appreciate you and all that you do:)
Until Next Tuesday,
P.S. Know someone that could use some help with guilt this holiday season? Share this one with them, I bet they’ll be glad you did.
#1 Remember Your Context
There’s an idea that I share with students of my course ACOA 101 (an online-group study course for Adult Children of Alcoholics) that always resonates.
And that idea is this:
Within the context of your life you make complete and total sense.
This idea can help not only when we’re thinking about our life but it can also help when we’re working through guilt.
If you made the choice to separate from a parent or other family member, you probably had a reason for doing that, right?
It was a decision you made in order to protect yourself, either mentally, physically or emotionally, from harm.
Or said another way:
Within the context of your relationship, YOUR CHOICE makes complete and total sense.
Think about it.
If you stay away from your alcoholic mother during the holidays because you don’t want to expose your children to her drunken fits of rage – you’re doing that to protect your children, right?
You’re not doing it to intentionally inflict pain or punishment on your mom.
So in this context, what then do you have to feel guilty about?
Now. Please don’t get this twisted. I’m well aware of the boundary between the rational and the emotional. And I realize that you can’t just think away your guilt.
But I do want to give you something to think about by encouraging you to remember and respect your context – your reasons behind the choices you made in the first place.
#2 You’re Not Alone – You’re Part Of The 90%
The UK charity Stand Alone and the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, conducted a study on family estrangement.
Online, they polled over 800 people who identify as being estranged from either their whole family or from a key family member, like a mom, dad, sibling or kid.
The results of their study found that 90% of the people who participated found estrangement from family to be even more challenging during the Christmas season.
So if you’re feeling conflicted or overwhelmed with guilt right now over an estranged parent or family member, just know that what you’re feeling is not unusual and you are definitely not alone.
You are part of the 90%.
#3 Feel The Guilt And Do It Anyway
Ryan proposed in front of our tree, just weeks before Christmas a handful of years ago.
The last person I wanted to call and share my exciting news with was my dad.
I knew he’d have nothing positive to say and I didn’t want to dampen the excitement that I was riding high on.
So I waited a week to call him. And the only response he could come up with when I told him my big news was:
Well, I hope you’re not making the same mistake I did.
Even though I expected it, his response immediately shifted the focus of my excitement from being engaged to feeling guilty and sad because he was miserable in his life and his marriage.
The same question kept popping up in my head –
Who am I to be happy and excited knowing that my dad is miserable and to some extent alone?
Thankfully today, I know better and I know for damn sure that my happiness does not dictate or determine how happy my dad can or can not be.
And the same idea applies during the holiday season.
Feeling guilty because your estranged someone is drunk and alone on Christmas isn’t going to make their situation any better. And it will not make yours any merrier.
Again, I know that when we’re talking about guilt a lot of this is easier said than done. In fact, when I brought this point up to a therapist years ago, although she agreed with me, she also said:
Sometimes you have to feel the guilt and do whatever you’re going to do anyway.
#4 Maybe It’s Time For A Role Reversal Remix
In dysfunctional families it’s not uncommon for a child to have to step up and assume the responsibilities of a parent at a young age. It’s called a role reversal.
For example, as early as the age of 5, I can remember having to parent my mom when she was drunk.
There was one night where she got so hammered that she ran outside in her robe and in front of all of our neighbors she started to undress herself. Well guess who was there trying to pull her robe back up on her naked body and talk her into going back inside? It was me.
Clearly this is an extreme example but one that highlights the role reversal that took place between my mom and me.
During the holiday season, it can be so easy to slip back into these role reversals even with a parent or family member that we’re estranged from.
That over developed sense of responsibility can become even more acute during this time of year when there’s so much focus put on family and togetherness.
For someone who had to parent their parent this can trigger guilt on a whole other level.
This is why it’s so important for you to recognize where you begin and end with your parent.
Although guilt may try to tell you differently, you are not responsible for how your parent decides to spend their holiday.
If they’re alone – that’s a choice.
If they’re drunk – that’s a choice.
You are allowed to enjoy your holiday regardless. And I’m sure if you have a family of your own now they probably would prefer that you enjoyed it too.
Look. Guilt is a heavy emotional burden to carry and it isn’t something that we can get rid of in a quick blog post.
If anything, I hope that what I’ve shared with you here will inspire you to enjoy this holiday season in spite of or alongside the guilt that you may feel. And if guilt over an estranged parent or other family member is a huge sticking point for you, then hopefully you’ll reach out for the help you need to work through it.
I’m rooting for you and wishing you all the happy you can handle this holiday season:)