• Wed, Dec 25 - 2:00 pm ET

Being Estranged From A Parent On Christmas Isn’t As Terrible As It Sounds

xmasI haven’t talked to my dad in seven years, so it isn’t a surprise that he won’t be showing up at my house to watch my kids open presents on Christmas morning. Around Thanksgiving, Maria started an excellent discussion on how to brave the holidays with a relative you don’t get along with.

I put my two cents in, which is that I feel my family is much better off without toxic people like my dad showing up at holiday celebrations. Since my oldest is only two, he never has and probably never will meet his biological grandpa (on my side).

My relationship with my dad was somewhat close until I turned 18—although I wouldn’t necessarily call it good. My dad has a lot, a lot of emotional issues, many of which probably border on mental illness. My dad’s mom is now dead, but before she died, she had paranoid delusions, from what I’ve been told.

After I turned 18, I moved with my family to a different state, and my dad stayed in our hometown. I think he always meant well and wanted to keep in contact with us, but our interactions from then on were always inconsistent, explosive, and somewhat crazy. About seven years ago, I decided that enough was enough. I actually moved back to my hometown where my dad lives to live with my now-husband, but I never planned to see my dad.

He knew I was in town, and he never tried that hard to see me either. He just did his typical stuff of sending me cryptic emails, texts, and Facebook messages, until I decided to block him on social media. His stalker messages really suck because they make it seem like he’s trying hard, but I know from experience that as soon as I start communicating with him or make plans with him, he’ll freak out or flake out, one or the other. That hurts.

If I ever get into a conversation with people about how I no longer talk to my dad, many well-meaning friends bring up having regrets after he dies. In the same unpleasant relative post written by Maria, jendra_berri summed it up perfectly: “When your dad does die someday, you may feel any number of things you don’t expect. Regret may be one of them. But regret comes in many forms, such as regretting things couldn’t have been different.”

I’m not necessarily clicking my heels in the air because I take pleasure in cutting my dad out of my holiday celebrations indefinitely. But I am happy that my kids won’t have to experience any instability, unpleasant emotions, or toxicity coming from that side of the family tree—on a holiday, no less.

I’m sad that I can’t spend time with my dad, especially on Christmas. It does hurt that my dad isn’t a dad to me, and sometimes I miss him. But I know it’s better this way.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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  • Kelly

    I became estranged from my parents in January and this has been one of the best Christmases of my life.

    I get the whole “you might regret it when they die” bit too. No, what I regret is spending 30 years of my life trying to get along with hateful, nasty, insane people just because I was unlucky enough to be their daughter.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I’m so happy you could stick up for yourself in this situation. Merry Christmas!!

    • Lisa547

      Amen!

  • keelhaulrose

    When my grandfather passed we had been estranged for a few years. I think it may have been his mind going, and I regret that I wasn’t more patient because of that, but when he said some of the things he said about my family I knew he wasn’t someone I wanted or needed in my life anymore. I was sad when he was gone, but I wasn’t mourning the him at the end. I was mourning the man who dressed up as Santa, took us shopping once a year, and would belt out ‘Camp Granada’ in the car without worry to tone. That wasn’t him at the end, and I’m glad I didn’t expose my daughter to him, especially at the holidays when things were supposed to be happy.
    My husband’s father abandoned his family when my husband was a year and a half. They had a distant relationship as my husband grew up, but the last time we saw him was at our wedding, and shortly after my first daughter was born my husband stopped contacting him. He passed away in October, the weekend we had planned to go visit him for the last time coincidentally, so we did see him alive, but only because he had a breathing machine. We were in the room when he passed, and my husband was upset, partially because he had cut off contact and held some regret, but partially because he saw his step-siblings there, and how strong a relationship they had with his father, and felt upset his father hadn’t tried to have that relationship with his biological children.

    It’s never easy to be estranged from someone, especially around this time of year, but it can be better for your health and family to not see someone or talk about them during that time.

  • Jordana

    These things are never easy. Once you have your own kids, though, it makes sense to want to protect them. If someone is emotionally unsafe for you, they are probably unsafe for your children as well. We don’t have control over who our parents are, but we have control over who we are as parents. Bravo to you, Bethany, for being brave and being a lioness of a mother :-) I really appreciate your honesty.

    • ElleJai

      I want to put in a vote for the line “We don’t have control over who our parents are, but we have control over who we are as parents.” for brilliant reader comment of the week :)

    • Bethany Ramos

      AGREED!!

  • Mimawa

    One of the most powerful things my therapist said to me regarding my choice to keep my mother out of my life was : “you have the right to protect yourself.” I also have the right to protect my child and my husband from that wretched woman. I am very confident that I will feel no regrets when that woman leaves this earth . I respect your decision and I completely understand it- it is the best one for you and your family. I find that my holidays and other events have been so much more peaceful the past 3 years. It is difficult to explain and have other people get it- they usually don’t. I hear things like “you should forgive her, she’s your Mother” or “why don’t you call her and at least let her see her grandchild”. At that point I just drop the conversation- unless one has experienced the emotional roller coaster of a selfish mother with untreated mental illness- don’t try and fix it.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Thanks for this :)

    • Mimawa

      Thank you for your understanding and kind comment lackadaisical – felt good hearing it :)

    • Lackadaisical

      Whenever I hear someone apply the grandchildren line to someone, as if an appallingly bad parent has a right to be involved with grandkids and the grandchildren are somehow deprived without that contact, I wonder if the person saying it assumes that a magical fairy will wave a wand to make the bad parent nice to the grandchildren in a way they weren’t to their own kids. I can understand if it is only a mildly rubbish parent who has since had time to grow up a bit and learn from mistakes or if the falling out is more of a clash of personalities with fault on both sides. However if a parent is so spectacularly awful that they are emotionally or physically abusive then why would a person want their own kids to suffer the same poison that they had as a kid. You know your mum better than people who pass judgment on your decision to cut her out of your own kids’ lives, you know best if knowing her would enrich their lives or add pain.

    • Katherine Handcock

      I second this whole-heartedly. I know that the grandparent relationship is different than the parent relationship — for example, my mom freely admits that she was an anxious parent but finds being a grandma pretty well just fun (in limited doses ;-). But if someone is genuinely awful to their kids, the chance that they will be sweetness and loving care to their grandchildren is pretty low. And even if they are, chances are good they will communicate some of their negativity about the parent to the grandkids, which is downright confusing for them.

      Sometimes you can find a halfway point — I know people who only see certain family members under very controlled circumstances — but other times, stepping away is best.

    • C.J.

      My grandmother was a crappy ass mother, an even crappier ass grandmother and managed to be even worse as a great grandmother. People don’t earn the right to see children just because they share DNA with them. My kids will never see my grandmother again because that is what is best for them. My mother has a ton of guilt for letting my sister, brother and I see her when we were kids.

  • Sarah

    Thank you so much for this. Holidays suck sometimes as adult kids away from really toxic family- but they would suck infinitely more had we kept these people close to us! Sometimes it’s hard for others to understand if they’ve never been in an abusive relationship. Verbal. Physical. Mental. Emotional. Not every parent is capable of the unconditional love others assume comes with parenthood. It takes a strong person to know when enough is enough and to protect their own children from the abusive reign of previous generations. Things can be different and often that happiness is found by taking the space you need to be happy and healthy.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Hugs to you on this holiday. :) You have a great perspective on this!

  • Mumoftwo

    I just want to chime in that sometimes separation from toxic family is the only means to emotional survival. My father basically disowned me after my mother died and he remarried his evil wife. At that time, I was very ill. It took years to recover physically and emotionally from this double hit. Once I decided to separate from him, I became a different person: happy.

    When my first was born and I felt that strong bond of unconditional love, I just couldn’t believe that a parent could do that to a child.

    It’s been 11 years and I am glad about my decision, but because of certain holidays and my children’s milestones, I get so upset and it’s like the wound is ripped open. This is not an easy decision to make and is not made lightly. But again, sometimes it’s about basic survival.

    Hugs to you all. We are stronger for it.

    • Laura

      Good for you. And congratulations on your recovery. :)

  • Spinda

    I won’t let my mother turn up to my celebrations, whether it is Christmas or birthdays etc. because I know she just brings a toxic environment to my house. She actually turned up this Christmas eve, inviting herself over for the next few days, not even a call to say she was coming or what her plans even were. She hasn’t bothered with me or my brother for Christmas for 10 years previous to this, so we were not letting her just turn up and change our entire plans to accommodate someone who barely even bothers with us. We told her she wasn’t invited and asked her to leave. She kicked off and started calling us everything under the sun and she hasn’t been in contact since. I am not even sad. I am actually pleased with myself and my brother for being strong enough to stand up to her as (esp in my brothers case) she has been able to manipulate and guilt trip us before to get her own way. I finally feel like I am strong enough to not let her get me down as before if something like this happened I would have been upset for a long time.

    • Bethany Ramos

      That is such a great feeling, to grow and stand up for yourself! Even though that situation sounds tough, it must be validating to know you handled it well.

  • Lackadaisical

    I can respect that decision. You know your father as well as anyone and if you think that trying to reconcile with him would add more pain than happiness to you and your family then your decision to remain estranged is for the best, and not just for you but for your kids and husband too.

  • Jessica

    The holidays are rough for me, because this is the time of year my mom tries to get back in touch, and I feel the guilt “because it’s Christmas!” Thank you for this article, because it articulates what the rational part of me needs to keep in mind.

    • Bethany Ramos

      So hard to be rational when it comes to family!! You’re very welcome. :)

  • Hanna

    Sorry but there is no excuse to NOT talk to your parents and patch things up!!! Unless your parents were physically or sexually abusive, everything else is forgivable.
    Some grown up children still want perfection from their parents.
    If your parents show remorse you should forgive. Haven’t we all not been perfect? If you are seeking perfection from your parents, then you are not living in the REAL world!
    Families needs to work things out!

    • Alicia Kiner

      There are actions that don’t fall under abuse that are just as unforgivable. Just because we come from our parents, doesn’t mean we owe them every ounce of ourselves and our children for the rest of their lives. It’s like respect, you have to earn it. Love and affection can only take you so far.

    • CMJ

      Oh honey, if you met my mother-in-law, you would think differently. That being said, no one wants perfection from their parents…and no one is even saying that.

    • meteor_echo

      I guess driving me to a suicide attempt at the age of 13 via verbal abuse and harassment is ~forgivable~. Good to know, I’ll go apologize to them for wanting to kill myself.
      Oh wait.
      Fuck off with your forgiveness drivel. Nobody needs toxic people in their life, and we have a right to cut them off.

    • Bishop Black

      I see emotional abuse doesn’t seem to cause the same kind of life long scarring that physical or sexual abuse does, in your world.

    • momma425

      You have no idea what you are talking about. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before opening your mouth.
      I highly doubt anyone is cutting off their parents because of something trivial- for most people I know who have decided not to have a relationship with their parents, it was a very complicated and hurtful and difficult decision. Who am I to judge? Who are you? Who are any of us, who weren’t there and don’t REALLY understand to tell someone else how they need to feel?
      Human beings have the right to cut those who are toxic to their lives out- for whatever reason.

    • Kelly

      Newsflash! Many parents are actually abusive. Like for real. it seriously happens. It’s not just made up to pimp juicy news stories. Get the fuck over yourself.

    • Laura

      “If your parents show remorse” – yeah, well, a lot of parents don’t.

    • neighbor57

      Most of us “grown up children” don’t want perfection from our parents; we want protection from them.

    • Katherine Handcock

      While I support your idea that it’s important to try to keep family relationships alive, as the other replies to your comment show, there are people for whom that is simply not possible.

      If you have never experienced the kind of emotionally abusive relationship that some of the people on this thread have, that’s wonderful. It sounds like you’ve never even witnessed it, which is very fortunate. I have occasionally witnessed relationships that were shockingly destructive (and, yes, it can be the other way, too — I’ve seen an adult child who was emotionally abusive to parents).

      You have to understand that “showing remorse” can also be used as a controlling tactic — like in abusive romantic relationships where the man who just spent hours screaming at you shows up with flowers, tears running down his face, saying that he should never have done those things and to give him one more chance. At a certain point, it becomes clear that remorse and apologies aren’t real. Until they are, reconciliation is usually not possible.

    • Allyson_et_al

      That is a ridiculous thing to say. Emotional and psychological abuse are real and cause real damage. There is a massive difference between “perfection” and unforgivably bad parenting. Unless you are a member of the author’s family, you cannot possibly know the extent of the damage her father has done to her emotionally over the years.

  • Steph

    I’ve started looking at what a person does to me in a relationship in the same way I would if that person were my girlfriend. When I’m concerned that someone may be taking advantage of me or being abusive, I just ask myself “What would I do if my girlfriend acted this way towards me?” If the answer is “LEAVE!”, then that’s exactly what I do. It’s been working out pretty well for me, so far. My last two Christmases have been fantastic!

  • SA

    You are so spot on. I had a pretty bad Christmas because of the company we had this year. While nothing was done to the point of needing estrangement. I do not want to celebrate another Christmas with these particular family members. A lot of selfishness, control issues, overstepping boundaries, and lack of appreciation, and total inappropriateness had me sleepless, stressed out, and unable to enjoy myself. I think from now on we will only do family around the holidays and keep Christmas Eve and Day to just us. Also being left to have a serious conversation with my husband about how visits with these family members need to be handled in the future.

  • historychick79

    I haven’t spoken to my mom in over three years. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back centered around my son’s birth, so she has never met her only grandchild. But becoming a parent is exactly what brought things into focus for me and helped me realize I needed to set boundaries and protect my family, as well as myself. There are times I’m still uncomfortable with that choice, mostly wishing it could be different. But I know it really wouldn’t be any easier to let her into my life and I want my son to have a healthier experience about ‘family.’

  • C.J.

    My mother and I stopped having contact with my grandmother this past summer. In the past 11 year since my oldest daughter was born she has been in my life for about 3 years, not all in a row and it was her choosing. When she was having health problems and needed help my mother got a call. My mother spent thousands of dollars and was super stressed getting her in to a retirement home and instead of being appreciative she became even more demanding and hateful. Last year Christmas was uncomfortable and my kids are actually afraid of her. They hardly knew her and she was very mean to them. Grabbing candy from my oldest because she wanted it and yelling at her for eating candy that was put out for everyone. Getting angry because my parents bought my kids laptops instead of spending that money on her. If she was that way because of age we might have been able to let it go, she has always been that way. My mother was always treated badly, even as a child. This year Christmas was so relaxing without her. I will never make my children see her again. My mother is at the point where she feels no love for her mother, neither of us expect to have any regrets when she dies. We did everything we could for her and it was never enough. We won’t help her again.

  • Laura

    I completely get this article. I have had virtually no contact with my so-called father in about a dozen years. I have enjoyed all the holidays for which he has not been present; I can’t say the same for the ones where he was. I understand where you’re coming from and the relief you feel that your children will not have those experiences.