When the Holidays are Hard: How to Create Meaningful Moments When Things Aren't How They're "Supposed to Be"


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Ever feel like this isn’t how it’s supposed to be?

“Supposed to” is one of those words that gets us into trouble.  

(Kind of like “should," right? --that’s another trouble-making word that we’ll have to save for another time.)

“Supposed to” tells us that there’s a certain way things are meant to be and that anything outside of that is wrong.  

But we all think that way from time to time.

If you’re a mom, then I don’t need to tell you that. We moms are really good at telling ourselves how things are “supposed to be” and then feeling horrible about ourselves when our realities don’t match that.

And the holiday season really lays it on even thicker.

We need to stay really conscious of this I think, because it can be easy for these thoughts to become automatic if we don’t stop and question where they came from and whether we really believe them.  

We can even get really attached to them. I mean, it’s not surprising. Our culture and the media feed us these ideas from the day we’re born.  

Why does it matter, you might ask?


Well, because when our choices or our circumstances fall outside those conventions that society or we ourselves expect, then we are bound to feel some heartbreak or anger over it.  

We can feel like we’ve failed or that others have failed us. We compare ourselves to others. We can feel like this year’s holidays are ruined or that the holidays are forever tarnished now.

We might need answers to that sometimes unanswerable question: Why did this have to happen to me, to my family?

Today, I’m talking about 4 common "unconventional" family holiday situations that I hear a lot about in my practice:

  • sharing the holidays with a co-parent

  • missing a military parent while they're on deployment

  • dealing with serious or chronic illness of a loved one during the holidays

  • and working through grief and loss during the holiday season.

In the video and transcript below, I discuss these situations in a little more depth and offer 3 tips for each scenario. I hope that you can find some support and comfort in these considerations.


*And if you need more support, don’t hesitate to reach out. I always assist in finding the right support for every new inquiry I get, whether it’s working with me or another therapist that is a better fit, or just finding free resources in your area.



This video previously aired as a Facebook Live. You can follow Happy With Baby on Facebook to catch all their live videos here.




Hey there, guys. Happy Friday. And so I literally thought I had recorded this yesterday. I was live yesterday, but apparently I can now not find the video so I'm thinking it didn't post. And so I would love for anyone that says "yeah I did see you yesterday" to share below. That would be awesome, so know that I'm, you know, didn't dream it.

But anyways, so I'm happy to be here today and um yeah and please don't mind my little setup here. I'm having the worst time figuring out how to record on my phone lately. And so if the Facebook people out there hear my wish is that eventually we can record Facebook lives on our actual desktop because I think it would be much easier for me because I am NOT tripod friendly.

Anyways, so here we go guys.

So this time of year, you know, we talk a lot about holiday traditions, but I think oftentimes what we're really talking about is less about being traditional and more about being conventional.

So take the nuclear family for instance. In our modern world, there really is no such thing as a conventional nuclear family because you can be married, you can be unmarried, you can be separated, divorced, remarried. You can be in a heterosexual relationship, you can be in a gay and lesbian relationship, and that's just the beginning, right?

There's no so many different ways to be in a relationship with others, right. You can be monogamous or polyamorous. You can have kids or no kids. You can have pets or no pets. Friends can be your family and family can be strangers to you.

So nowadays with the internet and social media, your loved ones don't even have to be in the same close geographic location as you.

So this is what I want to talk about today: Celebrating the holidays when your circumstances are a bit outside of convention and outside of what's expected.

So just to clarify, I believe that love and family come in all shapes, sizes, styles and there's no just one way to have a family. And so when I say "convention" I literally literally mean in air quotes convention, guys. It's not my judgment on anyone's choices or circumstances.

So this is obviously a much bigger conversation than what I'll be able to cover here today in my little Facebook video, but I just want to try to touch on a few common situations that I hear about in my practice and within my own social circles.

So specifically, the things I'm going to talk about today are co-parenting individuals, whether divorced or separated families, or families where a couple partnership under one roof is just isn't the way things are (and this can be for a number of different reasons). We'll talk about military families and there maybe one parent is away on deployment. Families dealing with serious or chronic illness like cancer, leukemia, heart disease, Lyme disease. There's so many different illnesses out there, right. And then and then lastly, families that are grieving the loss of a loved one.

I think what each of these situations has in common is that there are varying shades of feeling loss in each one, whether it's a literal absence of the person that's special to them, or the ideal vision of what you have expected for your family for the holidays would look like, or the loss of control over your situation, right. Lots of different types of losses.

So just like I touched on in my last video where I talked about the paradox of conviction and surrender, I think that really applies here as well.

And if you recall from a few weeks back when I was talking about making space for gratitude for noticing the beauty of what is, I think that applies here as well.

So don't get me wrong, guys, and these these situations are real tough and I'm not saying--and I'm not trying to minimize your circumstances or what you might be going through because we do need to find a way to get through them in the way that is best and feels okay for us and for our families.

So I think a lot of times if it's it's all in how we frame things.

Sometimes when you step back and really examine what you're feeling, you might find that those tears you cried aren't necessarily because your life is so terrible and more because you're just feeling the bigness of your actual circumstances and situation.

And then again sometimes you truly are a sad and things really do do feel terrible and that's okay to have those feelings as well because I think grieving can be a part of celebration and celebration can be a part of grieving.

So if you can look for the positive in your situation whenever you can, what is going well, what are you grateful for, what is this gift in this difficulty that you're experiencing.

Now, guys, I am NOT saying that everything happens for a reason. That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that sometimes there are gifts in the grief that you have.

And I really believe that the reason that holidays are so special to begin with is actually because of the preciousness of time. And these feelings of loss are heightened and that preciousness for sure.

So now for some tips, right, because I don't want to leave you without any tips.

So these are my tips for our co-parents:

  1. Make sure that the time with your kids is extra-special, right. Be all in and be present in that moment and soak up those minutes with them before you have to hand them off to your co-parenting partner.

  2. Rather than feeling sad about missing them on a particular holiday you can find the appreciation or look for the appreciation for how this situation makes for a stretched out or extended holiday? There you go at reframing the situation a bit.

  3. I think this is really important because this is often I've talked to a lot of parents about this is: What are you doing with that time when your kids are away? Are you taking that extra time to take care of yourself? I know it's--you don't have that kind of--the benefit of that being a single parent. You don't get to tag out when you're having a rough day. So what are you doing to really take in and make sure you're getting good self-care? Are you going spending some extra time with your friends? Are you finding time to pursue goals or activities that you really like that you don't normally get to do? So think about that.

And for military families or families that has a parent overseas, maybe is away for the holidays due to some other job or for whatever reason is gone long distance:

  1. How can you incorporate that long distance family member into the festivities? Can you make them a video where your kids are singing a holiday song? Can you Skype with them while opening presents? Can you host a virtual party where you ship them their gifts and they open their gifts and you have snacks and you all share together?

  2. How are you keeping that person present at home? Are you talking to your kids about the things that they loved or that your loved one loves? Right. Do you tell jokes that they used to tell? How are you nurturing your kids relationship with that person?

  3. How are you taking time to really enjoy that special one-on-one time with your kids? Parenting solo definitely means you have to be all the things all the time and I know that's not easy. And that sometimes it can mean getting caught up in all the things that you have to do to actually keep the machine running, right. So don't forget to slow down and kind of enjoy that extra time where it's just you and them.

So for those that have a sick parent or a child or another loved one, what are some things that you can do?


  1. How can you make the holidays fit into the needs of your family? If your sick loved one can't travel or be around visitors due to the increase--due to the need to reduce the risk of infection, how can you find a different way to be close to them? Can you Skype and--video can work right here too. If you have a family member who is suffering from dementia, how can you stimulate their positive memory bank? When those moments of acute memories show up how can you soak those up in those sweet moments with them? If they're on a special diet, how can you safely kind of jazz up the holidays for them?

  2. How are you getting the help and the breaks that you need? Because literally you can't take care of it someone else if you're if you're not okay. And I know that having a sick loved one is not only emotionally draining, but it can be physically draining as well so you so need to be taking care of yourself.

  3. It can be so easy to fall into feelings of resentment at times and understandably, what--so what are the things you can do when this happens? Right. How can you focus on the preciousness of time? And I think having good communication as much as you can with the sick loved one is so important, even if that means that there's really some uncomfortable conversations in your future. And also talking to your kids honestly about the things in ways that they can understand, for them developmentally, and helping them work through any feelings that they have, whether anger or sadness, is important too. And I think also to remember that they're not going to feel it the same way that you feel it or grieve it the same way that you grieve it.

    So it's something that you can't do all on your own, you guys. Please reach out for help because it's like it's very overwhelming and can be a lot especially around the holidays. And for those that are grieving the loss of a loved one, there's a lot of overlap here with all of the other things I've already mentioned and I think any of them can apply, so I also strongly urge you to visit the post I made in my blog last month about dealing with grief and loss.

And that said, some ways I love to honor and celebrate a loved one during the holidays are:

  1. I like to make their favorite dishes or meals. My grandmother used to make a traditional Polish meal that--her parents were immigrants from Poland, and so she would always make that over Christmas and I remember, I always thought it was so special. And so like I haven't done it yet cuz it seems labor intensive and if you caught any of my other posts, you know me and cooking are not a thing. So, but I think now I'll definitely try to get the recipes from my mom so I can start doing that. Because I just always thought they were so amazing, but maybe it was mostly because my grandmother was making them.  

  2. Decorate with some of their things. Or maybe if you have a picture of them, a holiday picture, something you can kind of get blown up and maybe you put out at the holidays, you know. If they liked to decorate--maybe they used to, like, to put tinsel on trees, I don't know that they do that anymore, but I know my grandmother - it was always the tinsel and she would get so mad at us if we would like play with the tinsel, but it was just so like, how could you not play with that stuff? Because it would get all over the floor and would make her kind of crazy. But like, if that's how they did it, like maybe you do something like that. Or if they use like those big lights, use that. Or maybe they have an old decoration or something.

  3. Retell old happy memories of that person with other loved ones. Because there's no better way to keep them alive than by sharing stories about them.

And so guys lastly of course, no matter the circumstances that your family's in, I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care. So please prioritize taking care of yourself, even if that means just an extra 10 minutes in the shower or going outside to cry or scream in solitude. Self-care is always my number one rule.

And lastly, I know the holidays are so hard on many of us and suicide rates tend to spike during this time of year. So if you or someone you know is really struggling and thoughts of suicide have come to them, guys, please please please don't suffer alone. You can call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or go to the SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

So I know the holidays can be really hard on many for so many different reasons, but please remember, you're not alone. Reach out to your loved ones. Reach out to a professional. But please whatever you do, if you're struggling, reach out to someone.

You guys, until next time, take care.



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