- Dr. Henry J. Svec
How to Survive Toxic Family Gatherings
During the holiday season you may be required to attend a family gathering with a parent that may not have done their job for you while you were growing up.In my practice I’ve worked with hundreds of such adults who suffer through the holidays trying to make the best out of a very difficult situation. Let me break down some facts and then a winning strategy for you.
Facts-Parenting is all or nothing.
Parents sacrifice what they want for their children. That’s a big part of the parent job description. If your parent left you to find themselves, start a new relationship after they left your other parent, and didn’t make regular attempts to connect with you on a regular basis then they failed at parenting. That parent may be your biological parent but they didn’t parent you.
Some parents don’t have the skill. No matter how hard they think they try they don’t get it. Like a poor musician they don’t have the talent to be a parent.
If a parent alienated you from the other parent-they didn’t parent you either. If you were part of a difficult divorce as a child and the parent you stayed with continually berated and talked negatively of the other parent-they made a significant error. See #1.
Addiction isn’t a free pass. Yes if your parent was addicted to drugs or alcohol which lead to your not having a parent, it is a disease, but a fact and not an excuse. Steps can be taken once your parent is free of drugs and alcohol, regardless of your age, but first they must practice sobriety.
The toughest part to accept as an adult child during these holidays is that your biological parent didn’t parent you. It is also true that if you had a grandparent, uncle, aunt, step-mom or dad love and take care of you they ARE your parent.
What to do if you must visit with your biological parent that didn’t parent you. Time limit it. Decide to attend the function for 60 minutes or 2 hours maximum with clear entry and exit times. Don’t stay beyond 30 minutes if alcohol is part of the gathering. Remember to love and honor that other person who mentored you, influenced you or truly loved and sacrificed for you. Accept that they are your true parent(s) and after the obligatory toxic visit, go celebrate with them.