5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays When You’re Struggling

by | Nov 16, 2020 | holidays

photo cred. Claudio Schwarz on unsplash

In the fall, our Hope For Hurting Parents support group discusses how the holidays can be hard. We struggle to get through normal days and now we have to deal with Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ugh. Our hearts are full of pain and sadness over our child’s destructive choices (alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, self-harm, eating disorders, legal troubles, etc.). Some of them suffer from mental illness but refuse help, or sporadically quit taking their meds. This only leads to more trauma and heartache. These but are a few reasons we dread this time of year.

We wish we could skip the holidays and fast forward to January 2nd. We’re not thankful or festive. We lack the energy to pretend. We can’t even fake a better mood. All we can think of is how unhappy and upset we are about our child; how God hasn’t answered our prayers; how weary we are with the journey. We see no hint of change in the near future. Deep in our hearts we’re terrified our children’s troubles will never end. Here are five tips that can help get us through this season.


5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays:

1) Adjust or lower your expectations – this will help you be content with however 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 is special for you. If anything good happens, you can enjoy the surprise.

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

3) Avoid social media – hearing about others happy homecomings and family gatherings can make you feel worse. Why not take a break from Facebook, Instagram, etc.? You might choose not to return.

4) Focus on others – look for a way to help someone in need, who is depressed or lonely. Showing them kindness will uplift your spirit too.

5) Be grateful – give thanks no matter how you feel; start a gratitude journal; be sure to note small matters, not only the big ones: a delicious cup of coffee, an uplifting song, a beautiful sunset, etc.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”


photo cred. Dena Yohe


Mom or dad, ask yourself: “On a scale of 1 to 10—1 is low, 10 is high—how hard will this holiday season be for me?” Take a few minutes to think about the number you chose. Why did you pick what you did?




Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

(I Thessalonians 5:17)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 4:6-7)

“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)

What is the remedy for a sad heart? Expressing thanks in trying circumstances, while we pray, not after everything has resolved. In this way—over time and with a lot of repetition—we can find God’s peace. We can become “thanks-givers”. Sound impossible? I thought it was. But “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

I’m not saying be grateful for the situation, rather, in spite of the situation. Be thankful for who God is, for what He’s already done, and what He will do.

I recently heard another perspective on this. A hurting mom wrote, “God helped me give thanks for my awful situation because I can now see all the good He has done in me and through me that never would have happened otherwise. So today, I’m able to give thanks for all the pain. This is totally God’s doing. I never imagined it was possible. He has done this in me.”

Both perspectives require a strong level of trust in a Sovereign and good God for whatever He allows in our lives. Even though our child’s life may be a mess, we can choose to give thanks in the Lord. This isn’t easy, but He’ll show us how.



God doesn’t want us anxious or stressed. Yet, in our humanness, He knows how we struggle. When we focus on Him and others, consider changing our traditions, lower expectations, step away from social media, and choose gratitude, He’ll bless us with His peace. And that’s not all. He’ll even give us joy. I need a big dose of that this year, what about you?

Nine years ago, a dear friend encouraged me to read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

photo cred. pexels

When Ann went through a rough time, struggling with depression, someone challenged her to see if she could make a list of 1,000 things she was thankful for. This sent her on a journey that changed her life. After I read her book, I started a gratitude journal and have recorded over 9,000 entries. My life changed too.

Dear friends, my prayer is that you will practice these 5 tips and start your own journal of thanks. If you do, in spite of the circumstances with your child, I believe you’ll have a more meaningful holiday season full of appreciation for God’s many blessings. When you ask Him for help, He’ll show you how to be a “thanks-giver” every day of the year.


**Today I’m grateful for a godly, supportive husband. What are you thankful for? I’d love to hear from you! 

Recommended Resource: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (annvoskamp.com). In November, Ann is offering an online study of her book.