When Thanksgiving Day Hurts

For Parents Who Wish Things Were Different

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, the official start of the holiday season, but many people aren’t looking forward to it.

For parents whose childrenturkey are ruining their lives with drugs or alcohol, struggle with a mental illness or self-injury, have an eating disorder, struggle with their sexual orientation, are in trouble with the law (in prison) or can’t stop gambling or looking at porn, the holidays can be a brutal time of year. They don’t look forward to Thanksgiving – much less the Christmas season.

I remember when my daughter was young and innocent. She’d curl up on my lap, giddy with excitement to watch the parade. Happy sounds filled our home. After the big meal, she would join in pulling on the turkey’s wishbone, smiling and laughing, hoping her wish would come true.

Years later, when my daughter was in full-blown addiction, the holidays changed for me. I became desperate for my wishes to come true.

What I once looked forward to, I dreaded. What previously brought joy, brought increased pain and sadness, regret and longing. I didn’t know how to cope.

What about you, dear mom or dad? Do you know how to cope? Do you yearn for your wishes come true – for your child to be restored? Would you be giddy with excitement just to have them back, healthy and whole? If only things were as easy as pulling on a turkey bone and making a wish.

In our minds, we can still see how cute and sweet our sons and daughters were. But today, instead of putting smiles on our faces, those memories make us frown. The happy days are gone. Our children aren’t who they once were. Not anymore. Everything has changed. Our hearts have been broken.

If our children don’t live with us, we might not know if we’ll see them on Thanksgiving. Will they call? If we do see them, how long will they stay? Will there be drama and arguing? And what about Christmas? If they visit, the holiday could be miserable.

Can we be honest? Sometimes, we wish our child wasn’t going to be with us. Who would understand if we told them? Some of us wonder if our child will survive until New Years. Others would be satisfied just to know they’re alive.

One Thanksgiving, when my daughter wasn’t doing well, I attempted to follow my typical tradition of beginning to listen to Christmas music. But this time, when the music started to play, instead of bringing joy, those familiar melodies brought a meltdown. I had to turn it off.

For parents like us, holidays can be bittersweet – sweet memories from the past combined with the bitterness of the present. We want the season to hurry up and be over.

Do you wonder how you’re going to manage?

Dear mom or dad, I have a suggestion. Shift your focus. Put your hope in God. You never know what tomorrow might bring.

A few years ago I heard from a mom who had been on the verge of despair. She’d lost all hope for her child, then something miraculous happened. Out of the blue, her wayward son came home, gave her a big, long, hug and declared with enthusiasm, “Mom, I’ve found my faith again!” He had returned to Christ and was living a new life. How quickly things can turn around!

Your child may not “come home” this holiday season, but if you trust God, He’ll strengthen you while you wait. He’ll get you through. You can count on Him – and that’s far better than wishing on any turkey bone!

This Bible verse helps me: “Wait for (trust in) the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).

Heavenly Father, as the holidays approach and everyone looks so happy, show me how to cope with my heavy heart. Help me lean on You and focus on the fact that You are with me. Comfort me when sadness closes in. Lift up my head and renew my hope. Make Your face shine upon me and give me Your peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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