Why It Can Be Hard to Go Home For the Holidays

By: Christine Fishel

When you think about celebrating the holidays with your extended family, what emotions come to mind? I hope you are filled with joyful anticipation. But I know there are many who dread these events.

The mention of Thanksgiving can send some into a panic as they remember past holidays in which a small space was overfilled with aging parents, adult siblings and spouses, and a gaggle of grandchildren running amok. But it’s not the number of people in the room that brings anxiety. It is what remains unspoken, what has been unresolved, and what happens between the moments when the photos are taken. Anger, resentment, loneliness while in a crowd: these are what make holiday gatherings painful for so many.

Add to this the taunting of our emotions by Hallmark’s beautiful images of the family we’ve always yearned to be a part of. No matter that the families depicted on television are fantasy or, at best, show the greatest-moments highlights of a well-adjusted family who practices the art of grace daily. Most people cry when they see these commercials, and I believe many are crying tears of sorrow.

This most beautiful time of year can become something quite unbeautiful as we struggle to keep it all in, project our best selves, and wait for it to be over so we can go back to our own homes, our own routines, our own lives.

But I believe God wants more for us. What if He wants to fulfill His promise for a life of hope, joy, connectedness, boldness, and the many other gifts He has promised us? What if He wants us to change things not just for ourselves, but for our children, our grandchildren, and every generation beyond?

Secrets of Your Family Tree, written by a team of Christian counselors, (including Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud of the Boundaries series of books) offers amazing insight into the inner workings and motivations of the family system in which we grew up. This is the place we all learned how to be a family, and that learning has impacted us—positively or negatively–as we’ve gone on to create our own families.

The authors list the almost universal rules that govern the dysfunctional family: Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.  They explain how some families operate to protect the family unit’s supposed image while completely missing the child’s natural purpose of learning to become an adult. As grown ups, these same children may have distortions of God, distortions of themselves, and distortions of others. They may believe God doesn’t like our questions and hates our failures. They may feel not good enough or they may believe they are better than those around them. They may believe others despise them if they disagree and they may become people-pleasers or people-avoiders.

Imagine a handful of these same people gathering around one table for a Thanksgiving meal.

Those who have worked through many of these problems in our individual lives can still be miserable when we find ourselves in an enclosed space for a number of hours or even days with our family of origin. We may feel that we no longer fit. We probably do not share the same parenting style. We probably do not share the same communication style. We may not be able to talk openly about how we have changed. Going home is like going back to the past, and it is more painful to exist in this place the second time through.

Secrets of Your Family Tree is not an easy book to process, because it will shine a light on what has been hidden. But we were meant for more than just making it through our lives. With its prompting reflection questions, this book offers us a chance to seek understanding of our families and ourselves, and–more importantly–of the person God sees when He looks at us. It offers us a chance to stop the dysfunction that has likely been passed down the branches of our family tree for multiple generations. It’s a chance for redemption. A chance for forgiveness. A chance for a fresh start–not just for us, but for all generations who follow us.

Secrets of Your Family Tree: Healing For Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families is authored by Dave Carder, M.A., Dr. Earl Henslin, Dr. John Townsend, Dr. Henry Cloud, and Alice Brawand, M.A.  ISBN 978-0-8024-7749-1 © 1991, 1995

6 replies on “Why It Can Be Hard to Go Home For the Holidays”

I am 45, I lost my mother in 1978 (New Years Eve). I can’t ever celebrate New Year. I am a labor & delivery nurse, so I almost always work the night shift. I am fine 363 days of the year, but my mom’s birthday & New Years are hard.
If I had $1 for every idiot who has made insensitive comments, I would be so rich.
Examples “Your Mom died so long ago, I am sure it doesn’t bother you anymore, you probably quit missing her years ago, my & she were divorced, so I get to hear from him, if had done this or that, she would not have died.
I just laugh, I also have had Crohn’s disease since I was a teen and the only way to survive Crohns is to laugh.
I am not sure what part I can play in your ministry, attend a workshop or share my testimony. Let me know if I could help.
Kathryn Walker

Hello Kathryn,
Thanks for your reply to our blog and thanks for your willingness to help out with the Motherless Daughters Ministry. We have been serving women who have either lost or missed the nurturing care of a mother since the year 2000! It is such an awesome privilege to do this.
The answer is yes to all of the ways you suggested. Yes you can be involved, yes you can attend a workshop and yes you can share your story/testimony. I would love to talk with you about how you could be involved in supporting the ministry. Please respond to my email and let me know how I can reach you.

I also wanted to let you know about an upcoming Journey Retreat/Workshop for Motherless Daughters will be held in the Cincinnati area on June 9-12, 2016. It should be awesome! Information will be available in January about this.

I would love to talk with you so please let me know how to reach you. I look forward to talking with you,
Mary Ellen Collins

I am so sorrry to hear that you lost your mother and that you are struggling to overcome it, I lost my grandmother 20 years ago and she was like a mother to me. She was always there when I needed her and she was a sanctuary from my home life, which was horrible. You will always miss your mom, especially on holidays. Try to remember all the great memories, for example on Christmas I always fix the meals she used to make and I teach my grandchildren the same things she taught me. It makes me feel closer to her and realize that I am her legacy, just like you are the legacy to your mom! Hope this helps! God bless.

Dear Elizabeth Ann,
Thank you so much for commenting on my blog. I love how you are using your own difficult losses to help others. We need each other, and we can learn so much from each other.
By preparing the dishes your grandmother prepared, and teaching your own grandchildren the valuable things your grandmother taught you, you continue your healing journey and also give priceless gifts to those you love. You are exactly right… you are your grandmother’s legacy. And you are a role model for hurting motherless daughters.
Grateful for you,
Christine Fishel

I was rather dismayed last week, as I watched the eye of Hurricane Idalia pass through my sister’s village on the NOAA live map, looking rather like a tornado. She lives 22.58 miles from Perry FL, as the crow flies, or a bit over an hour in 18mph hurricane distance. In Perry it had become a tornado. Most of us have seen the roof of the gas station airborne, bricked in tanks treated like smashed toys. I knew the preceding evening at 8:59pm it would be horrific. At 8:23 I had called my 81-year-old sister, whom I thought would be sheltering with her nearby son, to discover she intended to ride the storm in a one story building perilously close to a river. If I had had my nephew’s phone number I would have called him at 9pm. Never mind the storm, the heavy rains now, I would have said. Or her protestations. She’s 81, edema in her legs, sciatica, etc. Bring your truck, talk sense to her, take care of her; she’s my big sister.
But I didn’t have his phone number, even. So, no call, and anyway I am over 1,000 miles away. I’m sure he’d think he’s the man, lives nearby, knows everything about storms.
Shortly before 1 I called her very busy daughter, an emergency nurse, who chillingly heard my name, then asked, “What number are you trying to reach?” When I added Aunt to my name, and the name of my sister, her mother, she assured me all was well, she had texted her mother around 7am, and her nearby brother “had her covered.”
As I could ascertain how exceedingly hospital busy she was, I signed off. She hadn’t heard my sister’s voice, her text was before the hurricane made landfall, and I guessed her brother was in the path.
Indeed a short while later, I saw, on the hurricane whereabouts map, an icon a sliver west of his hometown of less than 1,000 people.
My sister has health issues, which I was able to ascertain in a brief conversation, which would merit some common sense attention. She depends on her children and God for safety. She’s in a retirement community that similarly trusts God, in my opinion, with common sense a bit pushed aside.
My fear is that dysfunction has, like the hurricane, hit dead center over the subsequent generation. My sister informed me by email, in language that said extremely stressed to me, that her son’s wife, mother-in-law, and daughter had rescued her. She had no power or water. He, the son, was in the land of
downed trees, as suspected. I have not heard from the niece or nephew, which in my opinion is exceedingly unkind, not to inform me of their mother’s whereabouts when I have clearly expressed concern.
They are devout Fundamentalists; I am nominally Anglican Episcopal. We aren’t so much for fire and brimstone. We’re more of the kindness, ethical thing, the at the very least, getting one’s self and relatives to safety in a life threatening situation is not an individual decision, it’s societal. You put others in harm’s way if you need to be rescued, you draw on common resources, in this case the Red Cross and the National Guard, who’ve been called into my sister’s religious community to keep it afloat.
Dealing with family dysfunction is a most worthwhile ministry. It’s Godly in every sense of the word.

Dear Kirsten,
What an ordeal you have been through. I can’t imagine the anxiety you must have felt being unable to help your sister and being unable to sense the awareness in others of her need for help.
Families can be challenging, for sure, especially when a new and challenging situation causes the unresolved issues of our past together to get stirred up. I can hear in your words the hurt you experienced this past week. And I suspect that hurt is piled on past hurt.
Thank you for sharing your story, and know that I’ve heard you. I am praying for you, and for your sister too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *