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Navigating Christmas if you have a difficult relationship with your family

4 min read
02 December 2020

I know how hard Christmas can be for some. It’s an occasion for spending time with those we love, which for most of us is family. But if you have a difficult relationship with your family, this can be really tough.

I have Christmas on my own this year, which is something I want and can do because of Covid-19 regulations. But the last few Christmases haven't been like this, and I have often dreaded the big day. For anyone else with a difficult family this Christmas, here are some things I've learnt.

If at all possible, it's a good idea to plan some things to do on your own or with people outside of your family. Last year I was told off for spreading my presents too far out, and decided then that I would rather spend the day by myself. However, because I had no plans before that moment, I ended up doing things like every other day, and felt like I was being left out. If I'd planned activities to do (a Christmas film for the evening instead of just random TV for example) I'd have felt more like I was choosing to be on my own because I wanted to do my own thing, and not just because I didn't want the negativity of my family.

If at all possible, it's a good idea to plan some things to do on your own or with people outside of your family.

You aren't doing anything wrong if you need to be away from your family. I know I can feel bad, like I should be spending time with them because "Christmas is a family time", but I'm coming to realise it's just not true. Christmas should be a time for love and joy, no matter who or what brings it. If Christmas with your dog (and your cat when she feels like joining in) is a Christmas you want, then that should be the most important thing.

You aren't doing anything wrong if you need to be away from your family.

I know from experience, however, that it isn't always that simple. When I first asked about doing my own Christmas this year with my own plans, I got a negative response (due to Christmas being a family time which, as a part of the family, I had to partake in). There would have been times to do my own thing, but presents and dinner were mandatory.

If you are in a situation like this, I have found distraction a powerful tool. I focus on my dog at dinner, blocking out the chatter around me, feeding her little bits of turkey. Or when opening presents or watching Christmas TV I'll focus on the task rather than the people around me so the thing I'm doing can still bring me joy.

I have found distraction a powerful tool.

My last piece of advice, and I almost feel like a hypocrite for saying this as I know myself how easily it can be dismissed, is to remember that it won't be like that forever. I didn't think I'd have my own Christmas until I moved out, and yet I'm currently making a timetable for the big day with so many present idea tabs open on my laptop it can't run properly. Before long, you’ll be able to decide how you want to spend Christmas, whether that’s with your family or not.

As a final word, I just want to say that, for anyone in a similar situation, I hear you. Whatever Christmas brings this year, just do your best to make it what you want it to be. Your mental wellbeing is important, so make it a priority whenever you can.

Where to get help

If you are struggling with your mental health, you're not alone. For tips, advice and information on where you can get support with whatever you're going through, have a look at our find help page.

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