When Thanksgiving Day Hurts a Parent’s Heart

by | Nov 14, 2023 | holidays | 6 comments

Photo cred by SJ on unsplash

Thanksgiving is coming soon, the official start of the holiday season (although every year it seems to start sooner), but many people don’t look forward to this time of year. Some of those people are hurting parents whose children have ruined their lives with drugs or alcohol, have a mental illness, self-injure, have an eating disorder, struggle with gender identity or their sexual orientation are in trouble with the law (in jail or prison), can’t stop gambling or looking at porn, or are estranged from them. For them, the holidays can be a brutal time of year. They don’t look forward to Thanksgiving much less Christmas.

Is that you?

I remember when my daughter was young and innocent. She’d curl up on my lap, giddy with excitement to watch the big Thanksgiving Day parade. Happy sounds filled our home. What a joy to be together. After the big meal, she would join in pulling on the turkey’s wishbone, smiling and laughing, hoping her wish would come true.

Years later, when my daughter was in full-blown addiction, the holidays changed for me. Desperate for my wishes to come true, I knew there was no turkey bone that could make that happen.

The holidays I once looked forward to I now dreaded. What previously brought joy, now brought increased pain and sadness, regret and longing. I didn’t know how to cope.

What About You?

What about you, dear mom or dad? Do you know how to cope with the holidays? Do you yearn for your wishes come true, for your child to be restored? Would you be giddy with excitement to have them back, healthy and whole? If only things were as easy as making a wish on a turkey bone.

We still remember how cute and sweet our sons and daughters were. But today, instead of putting smiles on our faces, those memories make us frown. The happy days are gone. Our children aren’t who they once were. Neither are we. Not anymore. Everything changed. Our hearts are broken.

When our children don’t live with us, we might not know if we’ll even see them on Thanksgiving. Will they call or come visit? If we do see them, how long will they stay? Will there be drama and arguing? And what about Christmas? If they visit, the holiday could turn sour and be miserable for everyone.

Can we be honest? Sometimes, we wish our child wasn’t going to be with us. Who would understand if we told them? Some of us wonder if our child will survive until the New Year. Others would be satisfied just to know they’re still alive.

One Thanksgiving, when my daughter wasn’t doing well, I attempted to follow my typical tradition of listening to Christmas music while I cooked in the kitchen. However, this time, when the melodies began to play, instead of bringing happiness, the familiar tunes brought a meltdown. I couldn’t listen without crying. I had to grab a tissue, turn the music off, and hide in my bedroom unti l I could regain my composure.

Holidays can be bittersweet. Sweet memories from the past mingle with the bitterness of the present. We want the season to hurry up and be over. We want the pain to end.

Do you wonder how you’re going to manage?

Dear mom or dad, I have a few suggestions that might help you manage this holiday season.

  • Shift your focus.
  • Put your hope in God.
  • Remember, you never know what tomorrow might bring.

A few years ago I heard from a mom on the verge of despair. After years of disappointments and heartache, she’d lost her ability to focus on God. All hope for her child was gone, then something miraculous happened. Out of the blue her wayward son showed up on her doorstep. He gave her a big, long, hug and declared with enthusiasm, “Mom, I’ve found my faith again!” He had returned to Christ and begun to live a new life. He was a different person. How quickly things can turn around. Marveling at the answered prayer standing on her doorstep, God reminded her of something. While she was close to giving up, he was still working behind the scenes … and He would never give up. Ever.

Friend, your child may not “come home” this holiday season, but if you shift your focus and trust God, keeping your hope in Him, He’ll strengthen you while you wait. He’ll get you through. You can count on Him, and that’s far better than wishing on any turkey bone.

This Bible verse helps me: Wait for (trust in) the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14) NIV.

Let’s Pray: Heavenly Father, as the holidays approach and everyone looks so happy, show me how to cope with my heavy heart. Help me lean on You and focus on the fact that You are with me. Comfort me when sadness closes in. Lift up my head and renew my hope. Make Your face shine upon me and give me Your peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.



  1. Andy Malloy

    So needed this today! thank you so much for what you guys do for all of us that are hurting parents…

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      Thanks Andy,you are very gracious.

  2. Marcy

    Thank u,I needed this right at time.I miss my daughter and grandchildren so very much tonight..🙏

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      I’m so sorry Marcy. Praying for your sad heart today. God is with you.

  3. Jean Cloke

    Thank you for this article. Dreading the holiday season again this year. We are getting better every year. This is our 3rd holiday season without our daughter & her family and 18 years without our son & his family. Things with our son had been rough ever since he began dating the woman he married, and it went downhill from there. But our relationship with our daughter and son-in-law was wonderful until a few months before Christmas 2019, when things started feeling a little off, but not bad. Then they completely cut off all contact and no explanation we understood in February 2020. I think I may be able to put up some decorations and maybe go to holiday dinners with extended family this year. I won’t be sure until the time comes. Most family and friends act like we should just let it go and forget about it. So that makes get togethers difficult.

    • Tom and Dena Yohe

      I am so sorry for all the pain and heartache you have endured all these years, Jean. I’m so glad the article helped to remind you that you are not the only one and what you’re feeling is normal. Praying now that your holiday will be special despite the disappointments and hurts you bear. The Prince of Peace came so that you would not have to bear it alone.
      In Christ, Dena