5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays for Parents in Pain

by | Nov 15, 2021 | holidays | 4 comments

photo cred. Claudio Schwarz on unsplash

“I hate the holidays! They just make me feel worse than I already do! I want to ignore them or acknowledge them at all, but no one understands”

Thanksgiving and Christmas are hard when you’re a parent in pain. Already struggling to get through ordinary days, now they have to figure out how to survive the holidays with a troubled child. Ugh. Full of anxiety and sadness over their child’s destructive choices and problems (alcohol and drugs, mental illness, gender dysphoria and pornography, self-harm, legal troubles, etc.), they see no hint of change in the near future. They’re terrified the troubles will never end.

When my daughter wasn’t doing well, I wished I could skip the holidays or fast forward to January 2nd. Can yhou relate?

Parents like us don’t feel thankful or festive. Lacking the energy to pretend, we can’t even fake a better mood. All we can think of is how unhappy we are about our child, how God hasn’t answered our prayers, or how exhausted we are from the battle.

My husband and I discovered these tips that helped us survive the holiday season.

5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays:

1) Lower expectations – this will help you be content with how your holidays pan out. Maybe your child will be pleasant; maybe they will call; maybe you’ll see them or maybe not. Let go of what you want from them and do what would be special for you. If anything good happens, enjoy the surprise.

2) Consider doing things differently – if former traditions will cause you to feel sadder or will be too difficult in light of your current situation. That’s okay. Create a new plan. You can still make special memories.

3) Avoid social media – hearing about others’ happy homecomings and seeing photos of their family gatherings can intensify your pain. Envy and comparison rob us of joy and peace. Why not take a break from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter? You might decide not to return.

4) Focus on others – look for a way to help someone in need, who’s depressed or lonely. 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 others blesses you in return.

5) Be grateful – express thanks no matter how you feel. Start a gratitude list or journal. Be sure to note small matters, not only big ones: a delicious cup of coffee, relaxing music, a beautiful sunset, etc. On difficult days, looking back over the entries will be a source of encouragement as you recall God’s many blessings.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”


photo cred. Dena Yohe


Practicing these five tips requires a strong level of trust in a God who is sovereign and good no matter what he allows in our lives. We need divine help to apply these ideas. The Bible is full of encouragement for discouraged, depressed people who don’t think they can do hard things. This verse boosted my spirits 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).

Nothing was going well. No buds on the fig trees. No grapes on the vines. Crops failed. Fields produced nothing. No sheep or cattle in their possession. Everything looked hopeless and yet…

What is the remedy for our heavy hearts during the holidays?

Relentless trust in God.

Sound impossible?  Be encouraged. With him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).


God doesn’t want us sad, anxious or stressed any time of the year. But in our humanness, he knows how we struggle when our children are not doing well, especially during the holidays. However, if we can lower expectations, consider doing our traditions differently, step away from social media, focus on others, and choose gratitude, we will reap the benefits: more contentment and peace.

More contentment and peace.

But that’s not all. God will help us choose joy–a joy that’s not contingent on circumstances. Joy that comes from him…. yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior… (Habakkuk 3:17-19a).

I need a big dose of peace and joy after the past year and a half of a pandemic.

What about you?

Dear friend, my hope is that you will practice these 5 tips so that you will reap the benefits. If you do, in spite of the circumstances with your child I believe you will have a greater appreciation of the goodness of God.

Why not ask Him for help and see what happens?

**Which tip do you want to try? Maybe you’ve done one of them before. Did it help? I’d love to hear from you! 

Recommended Resource: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (annvoskamp.com). 


  1. Lori Travis

    My youngest son has been in jail or prison since 2018. It was very hard the first year. I kept praying that God would work a miracle and he would be home for Christmas the first year he was in jail. Because he is not up for parole until March 2024 I have focused on our other children during the holidays. We have 8 children and 12 grandchildren. One of my sons was married in 2020 and we decided not to take a family picture that year because Josiah was not there, the only one missing.
    The first Thanksgiving he was not with us I cried and I still am sad at Christmas but focusing on my other children and grandchildren has helped. Thank you for your encouraging emails.

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Lori, thank you for sharing a little about your situation. I’m so sorry your son isn’t able to be with you and how much that hurts. I hope you take a family photo at Christmas now, you want to remember these years with the rest of the family. The sadness won’t go away, but you’re learning to make peace with it and still enjoy your other children and grandchildren. They need you as healthy as you can be for them, so I hope you’re focusing more on yourself. It’s a good thing because it helps everyone!

      You might like a wonderful devotional my friend, Carol Kent wrote just for families of incarcerated loved ones: Waiting Together (it’s on the book list on our webstie). I read it and loved it.

      God comfort and uplift your heart this holiday season.

  2. Mary

    For this Thanksgiving I’m make small changes to cut myself some slack. I will purchase deserts at trader jos, abs make some easier dishes that are still yummy but not as labor intensive. I have hired someone to clean two times a month. It is an expense but im so exhausted it will be worth it.

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Mary, those sound like some great changes you’ve made that will help you conserve your physical and emotional energy! Kudos to you!
      Have a more restful holday season and Happy Thanksgiving!