My family is broken. It didn’t happen overnight, but took place slowly over the course of my parent’s decades-long marriage. My dad could be at times verbally and emotionally abusive. My mom was always trying to hold things together and protect my sister and me from the scary, bad parts of our father.
Yet my childhood wasn’t completely horrible. I knew I was loved by both my parents, as much as my dad often struggled to communicate his love to his children. Still, it’s the bad memories that take up the most space in my mind.
Many of these bad memories were made during the holiday season.
The nights we stayed up wrapping gifts or putting up the tree, and it was just the three of us—me, my mom, and my sister.
The Christmases when my parents had a huge blow up that morning after we opened gifts.
The get-togethers with family I so looked forward to, only to have them ruined by dad being in a bad mood. We would have to make up an excuse for our relatives why he wasn’t joining—because he was still fuming after one of his arguments with my mom.
Many times I thought my forgiveness had run out. I started to believe that the holidays would never be an enjoyable experience. Thankfully, my dad and I took big steps in recent years to restore our relationship.
But then my forgiveness was tested again. Big time.
My mom decided a few years ago to try one final time to make things work with my dad. That attempt didn’t last long, because it became very clear he was cheating on her. There were weeks when my mom and sister didn’t see him at all until he came home to wash his clothes or get a good night’s sleep. It was infuriating because he wasn’t even trying to hide it.
Then he left that girlfriend and moved in with another one. He still lives with her. The kicker is that both of them are still technically married to their respective spouses.
It sounds like a soap opera storyline, but it’s my family’s reality. In a time of year when many celebrate with their loved ones, my father has presented me with two choices:
- Refuse to see him. I could pretend my father and his live-in girlfriend don’t exist—giving them the cold shoulder as a sign of my disapproval of their actions.
- Love him anyway. There’s a difference between loving and supporting—I don’t support my dad’s decisions, but I love him. He knows my sister and I are hurt and that we don’t support how he has ripped apart our family. But we also love him enough not to let us become even more distant from one another.
What I’m realizing as I get older is that you can’t control other people’s actions, you can only control your response. My father’s behavior may be incredibly hurtful, but I have chosen to embrace joy this holiday season. He isn’t perfect, but I know he loves me and is working to make amends with his children. I can’t forget everything he has done, but I can at least try to forgive and work to maintain a healthy relationship with him.
On Christmas Eve, I’m going to drive home to my mom’s house. We’re going to invite my dad to come open gifts with us the next morning. My sister and I are going to buy his girlfriend something since she and my dad are buying us gifts. I’m going to smile. I’m going to enjoy the special Christmas breakfast my mom makes each year. I am going to focus on all the good around me and let the brokenness I feel inside temporarily fade into the background.
If you’re from a broken family and are looking ahead to Christmas morning with trepidation, I understand how you feel. The good may seem to be drowned out by the division and hurt in your family. If you take a step back and look hard enough, there are pockets of love and peace to be found everywhere you look. It might not be easy, but I encourage you too to look for the joy in this holiday season.