As we all know, the holidays are supposed to be full of cheer. We are reminded by all the advertisements depicting happy families gathering together around a meal or a Christmas tree, all the movies (looking at you, Hallmark) that celebrate love new and old, all the social media posts of parents and their children visiting Santa or baking cookies or opening gifts.
Yet all too many of us know that there are also empty seats at many tables, ones that may one day be filled again, but for now remind us of what we have lost. The holidays can bring great joy, but they also come bearing less welcome gifts of loneliness, regret, and grief. Many parents do not get to see their children delight in all of the holiday festivities that they used to enjoy together. If you celebrate Christmas, then Christmas Eve may once have been an exciting night of anticipation and sleepless children eager to open just one more present.
But not anymore. For alienated parents, “Silent Night” takes on a whole new meaning.
The most insidious thing about alienation is the silence. I don’t mean just the absence of sound in general; you may be surrounded by any number of distractions (of your own making or just by virtue of where you happen to be). By silence, I mean the absence of your child’s (or children’s) voice. Though they may be alive and well, you do not get to share in whatever joy and laughter they are experiencing. You don’t get to hear their excited chatter, their ridiculous jokes, their random questions.
Before they were stolen from you, you likely took all of this for granted, right? Even their complaining and bickering would be music to your ears at this point.
If you are new to this, I’m sorry. There is simply no consolation that I can offer. Even the helpful refrain of your allies, “It will get better one day,” will do little to calm the storm in your broken heart. I wish I could say that it does get better, that it will hurt less one day, that you will learn to cope with it. I can’t promise that. Maybe you will find some way to heal, and I hope you do. But for now, it’s going to hurt like hell.
If you have lived with this for a while, then you know that it’s like no other pain you’ve ever felt. I’m sorry for you, too. All I can offer in the way of comfort is that you are not alone. There are many others enduring the same thing, for whatever it’s worth.
But back to the silence. I can’t speak for everyone, but in my own experience, I tend to try and fill the silence rather than feel it. I doubt I’m not the only one, though. We become experts at finding ways to distract ourselves from the heartache because, if we don’t, we will have to deal with it directly. Not that this is any different from how people react to other problems, but there is something especially crippling about having perfectly happy, healthy children who do not want you in their lives.
It’s not that I begrudge anyone who does get to spend time with his or her kids. I’m actually really happy for my friends and family who post pictures and videos of their children having fun and laughing and singing and playing and, well, being children. It brings me such joy to see their joy, to share in it vicariously and celebrate their happiness.
And so, lacking any real point to this post, I’ll close with this. If you are sad or angry because you do not get to spend the holidays with your children, that’s okay. Even if you are surrounded by other loved ones, it’s okay to grieve for those you have lost. If you are happy to be with friends and family in spite of not seeing your kids, that’s okay, too. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty for having fun and spending time with people you care about. There is no right way to be an alienated parent, nor any easy solution to the pain you feel.
And if you are struggling through another “Silent Night,” I hope you can take at least some solace in knowing that it will not last forever.
Happy holidays, and may the empty seats at your table be filled soon.