Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Reclaiming Family Holidays When You're Estranged from Your Parents

Although I missed posting this in time for Fathers' Day, it's still good information for anyone struggling with how to reclaim family-oriented holidays if they don't have a relationships with their parents.

“Masculine energy is proactive, responsible, organized, and compassionate,” says Dr. Seku Gathers, MD, author of the book Total Body Wellness: The Truth About Your Health. “Those qualities don’t necessarily mean being male – you can still celebrate people in your life who have those qualities. Fatherhood is flexible. You should ask yourself: who are the surrogate fathers in my life?” 

Dr. Gathers with his three daughters. 

Why can holidays like Mother's Day or Father's Day be difficult for those who are estranged from family members?

Popular culture has shown us what a “traditional” nuclear family looks like. You have a mother, a father, and children, all of whom are close knit. But we know this isn’t true for most people. Today’s family structures are often complicated and untraditional; there are now more single parents, same-sex couples with children, and even platonic families than ever.

When our personal world is different from the so-called norm, we may feel a sense of shame or anxiety. We can ask ourselves, “Why am I not like other people? Why can’t I have a healthy relationship with my father?” Often, negative feelings can bring forward unresolved past traumas, creating a negative feedback loop. These feelings tend to heighten around the holidays, times when you get together with family.

These feelings are normal – it’s what you do with them that’s important. 

You may be surprised to know that the number of estrangements with adult children and their parents is on the rise. This is partly due to the polarizing nature of contemporary politics, but it’s also because people increasingly prioritize mental health. They no longer want to continue unhealthy relationships that negatively impact them, not even with their parents. And of course, there are people who did not choose to be estranged from their family, which makes holidays a tricky time to navigate.

How can people reclaim these often family-oriented holidays?

The first thing you can do is to take time to self-reflect. Holidays can provide opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of who you are and what you need. 

When I confronted my own childhood traumas around sexual abuse, it took me a long time to unpack how I felt. A great exercise I’ve done over the years and with my clients is to dive deeply into a feeling. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling now? Now, what am I feeling under that? Am I making judgments about how I feel about it?”

It’s easy for us to identify feeling angry, sad, ashamed, or guilty, but it takes a lot of introspection to identify what triggers these emotions. We’re also prone to dismissing our feelings based on current circumstances (for example, getting a flat tire or dealing with a breakup), however, we’re complicated creatures who carry emotional (good and bad) energy from childhood to adulthood.

To reclaim Father’s Day in particular, look closely at the supportive people in your life. You may be surprised to find that you already have a father figure. Masculine energy is often responsible, compassionate, and proactive. Your father figure doesn’t have to be male – it can be anyone who possesses these qualities. It could be a good friend, uncle or aunt, or even a trusted work colleague. We all have masculine and feminine energy within us.

Identify the surrogate father figures that surround you. Take a moment to thank them and explain what they mean to you. Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool for reshaping our mindset around sensitive issues.  

If people don't currently have anyone they see as a mother figure or father figure in their life, how can they cultivate those relationships?

Remember, fatherhood and motherhood are a set of ideals. They’re not 100% based on biological connection. When you identify the people in your life who fulfill those motherly or fatherly roles, work at maintaining those relationships.

It takes more than 200 hours of quality time to develop a deep friendship with someone when you’re an adult. That’s a lot of time and energy! But it’s worth it for your overall mental and physical health. Research suggests that strong friendships are one of the greatest indicators of life expectancy. So prioritize your interpersonal connections with supportive people.

Founder of ConnectMD, Dr. Seku Gathers is a concierge physician, podcaster, teacher on Insight Timer, and mindset coach. Having dedicated his life to the refinement of healing techniques to serve humanity, he provides a living example of how embracing inner truth unleashes one’s full potential, both professionally and personally.

Founder of ConnectMD, Dr. Seku Gathers is a concierge physician, entrepreneur, author, podcaster, teacher on Insight Timer, mindset coach, life strategist, and award-winning filmmaker. Having dedicated his life to the refinement of healing techniques to serve humanity, he provides a living example of how embracing inner truth unleashes one’s full potential, both professionally and personally. During his former career as a successful emergency room physician, sudden disease and divorce required him to reset and slow down. When old wounds from his troubled childhood surfaced, he developed a method of transforming trauma into truth and self-empowerment. His book Total Body Wellness: The Truth About Your Health shares this approach and explores the mind-body connection. 

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