A Tricky Christmas : Coping Strategies for Estranged Families

4 December 2023

The holiday season is dubbed the most wonderful time of the year, but for families struggling with estrangement, it can be a painful and bittersweet reminder of what once was. Christmas is meant to be a time of connection, but when toxic relationships come to the forefront, it can be a difficult time that nobody wants to experience. Despite the idealistic images of family gatherings and blissful interactions that the media feeds us, for many of us, the reality is more complicated. If you find yourself feeling isolated and alienated during this holiday season, you are not alone. 

1. Acknowledge your feelings

It’s natural to feel a sense of loss and sadness during the holidays when you can’t be with the ones you love. It's okay to acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself to grieve the relationship that’s no longer there. Don’t try to suppress your emotions or pretend that everything is okay. Instead, find a healthy outlet to express your feelings, such as talking to a supportive friend or a therapist. 

2. Create meaningful traditions

Just because you're not with your estranged family doesn't mean you can't enjoy the holiday spirit. Create new traditions that hold personal meaning for you and your immediate family. It could be a movie night, baking cookies, or decorating a tree. These traditions can help you focus on what you have, rather than what you’ve lost.

3. Set boundaries

Being estranged from family members can be draining and toxic. If the relationship is toxic and has caused emotional harm, give yourself permission to prioritize your well-being. Setting boundaries around how much contact you have with your estranged family can help you manage the stress that comes with the holiday season. You can even take a break from social media or refuse invites to events that will trigger you during this time.

4. Don't compare yourself to others

Social media and holiday movies often paint a picture of the "perfect" family Christmas, which can make you feel more isolated and lonely. Despite what you see on social media, don't compare your situation to others. Your value and worth as a person are not determined by your family status or holiday plans. Instead, focus on what you do have, even if it's small things.

5. Give back to others

The season is a time for giving, so focus on doing good for others. Volunteering your time or donating to charity can bring joy and fulfillment to your life. Participating in a charitable cause can also help you shift your focus from what you've lost to the impact you're making on the world.


Remember, Christmas is just one day out of the year, and it doesn't have to define how you feel about yourself or your familial relationships. Try to focus on what you do have rather than what you’ve lost to avoid feeling isolated and lonely. You can create new traditions and build your own definition of what Christmas means to you and your own children. Surround yourself with people who love and support you during this time, and don't hesitate to seek professional help if you need it. Above all, take care of yourself and remember that you are not alone in this. Merry Christmas!