The Mandatory Christmas Visit

by admin on December 3, 2012

I’ve always loved Christmastime even though certain members of my family sometimes ruin the day for me.

I also come from a split up family that lives near me, but not too near me and Christmases are usually spent with one or the other.

My fiance and I are getting married in the new year, not long after Christmas.  And we decided as a couple that this year is going to be our Christmas with just us and our cats and we can be with family other years.

So a few weeks ago, I heard from my sister that my Mum was planning Christmas dinner in the city near where we live and I needed to keep it free. I made no promises but said I’d keep it in mind. Bear in mind that she and youngest sister both live interstate.  Not long after that my Mum called and we talked of the plans, my fiance was invited to the dinner as well but I explained to her what we had decided and the reasons. She, my stepfather, and aunt were welcome to drop by on the way home (it wasn’t out of their way) and that we’d make a visit around boxing day or so. A few weeks later she called again to confirm, sounding a little disappointed but I informed her again of our plans. There would be other years where we could visit, I said.

Fast forward to sometime later and my younger sister calls me demanding to know why I wasn’t coming to Christmas and Mum was cancelling the plans now. She also claimed I lied to her about keeping it free. I tried to tell her that a) I’d never lied to her and said we’d come, b) we’d decided to have our first Christmas together as it was the first one before we got married, c) this was between me and my Mum, as she’d organized it and I told her our plans.

I didn’t get through to her and she starts to throw on guilt trips, saying she gets very few holidays (true, she’s a doctor) as does youngest sister and we owed it to her to show up. She also brought up quite a few unpleasant things about my wedding where she’s a bridesmaid (a whole ‘nother story) that I had been prepared to forgive and forget.   I admit I did say a few unpleasant things to her, which I apologized for soon after, as I was at breaking point with the trouble she was stirring up about everything.   When I suggested that we see each other Boxing Day or another day around then, she said no, as she was arriving Christmas Eve and going to see another relative Boxing Day.

It might be what she wants, but I still feel slightly guilty over our plans for Christmas. Was I wrong in wanting to spend Christmas just with my future husband? Was I right to stand by him against my family? I admit I had no inking of how problematic the holidays could be. 0905-12

When the nuclear family dynamics begins to change due to children marrying, getting careers or moving away, it does becomes a challenge for family members and parents to readjust their expectations.   Navigating through the maze of work schedules and new demands on a new couple’s time to arrange family time together is a normal part of moving through the seasons of life.    When my eldest daughter married, our family could no longer expect that she would be in attendance at annual family events because she now had her husband’s family to factor into her life as well as obligations to her own newly formed family.   One family had grown into three families who all had claims on one daughter’s time.

As parents, our solution was to continue to host our annual parties and get-togethers regardless of which relative could come or not.  If someone could not make it that year, oh well!  We’ll miss you! Maybe next year!   For major holidays, the request was made that everyone make a concerted effort to be together every third year for one holiday (such as all agreeing to meet for Thanksgiving but not Christmas). This allowed all the adult kids to have their own celebration on year, got to the in-laws another year and be with their nuclear family the third year.   To expect one’s kids to show up every single year to every single holiday is selfish and ignores their need to start their own family traditions.

The OP’s sister makes the mistake of thinking bullying will produce compliance.   That isn’t the kind of behavior that will encourage the OP to come or create a longing to be with family.  At best it produces ambivalence about visiting family during the holidays.

 

{ 87 comments… read them below or add one }

Allison December 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Families need to be more accepting of changing lives. Years ago when my brother has his first kid, we (mom, brother and I) decided that our family christmas would always be celebrated on a different day, sometimes its boxing day, sometimes Christmas Ever, it generally depends on Mom as she works at an aged care home and has set days she works regardless of the holidays (we also rotate whose house we spend it at to relieve one person of constantly hosting). It works so well, and we all love it. We get a whole to spend with each other and our growing family, then Christmas Day is far less stressful as brother spends it with his kids and wife and then with her family, I have the same freedom.
I know not all families can come to the same reasonable solutions, and for some they feel it HAS to be christmas Day that they see each other. But Christmas time is about family and love and joy, and we choose to make our season joyous by being reasonable and unselfish. Plus the kids love it coz they get two days of presents :)

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Shalamar December 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm

@Travestine, I probably wasn’t clear – we spent at least part of every Christmas Day with my in-laws for almost 20 years (let me see – 1989 to 2007 – yes, that’s about right). So, it’s for the last four years that we haven’t spent “The Day” with them. We have, however, spent Christmas Eve with them (usually at our house, with everyone invited). On the occasion I mentioned (when MIL accused my husband of being a bad son), it was in 2008, and it was the first time we were going to spend Christmas Day at home. We’d just seen MIL and everyone else the night before, but that wasn’t good enough, apparently.

You’d commented “Perhaps you all could have gone over later in the day for lunch, after spending a nice morning at home.” Well, as I mentioned, we tried that for a number of years, only to find ourselves gazing in a stupor at the goggle-box while it played a football game that my husband and I didn’t give two hoots about. (We’re not sports fans.)

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Another Alice December 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm

JWH: I think that’s an excellent question! First off, as a single person, I don’t feel anyone is obligated to anything in terms of where they go for holidays. While discussing families in terms of splitting up time, single people just as well may have work obligations or even obligations to friends, who often become like family if they are living far from their own blood relatives.

I’m fortunate to have plenty of holiday time off from work, and even though I live relatively far from my family, it’s no problem to go and see them. I would probably always attempt to do so, especially for major holidays like Christmas and Easter. But if friends were having a Thanksgiving celebration in my city, I might skip and go to their house instead. It really would just depend on my personal situation at the time. When I first started working, even if I had a four day weekend I would travel home. It was absolute insanity, and I was exhausted. It took some cajoling, but eventually my parents became okay with it. They “get” more that I’m an adult and sometimes when I have time off, I just want to run errands and get stuff done around the house, or even just sit in silence for a couple of days.

Then again, I *like* my family, tehe. But as it seems the advice for those with families of their own, so it goes for singles: Do what works out best for you. If getting home for a holiday will cause major emotional or financial stress, then skip a year. If it causes the emotional/financial stress, but the long-term resentment from family would make it worse, then grin and bear it. It’s up to you.

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Firecat December 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Travestine, did you miss the bits where the OP stated that her DH’s bio family, on more than one occasion, opened gifts before OP and her DH even arrived? And that, when the OP suggested that they spend the holiday with their nuclear family, he loved the idea? And then the MIL chose to call the DH a “bad son”? It seems to me that the MIL did a lot more to separate Shalamar’s DH from his bio family than Shalamar did.

To the OP, stand your ground. I agree with those saying you should have been honest with your sister from the beginning. But otherwise, I think you’re doing fine; your family is going to need to learn that your soon-to-be-DH is now the most important person in your life, and that the two of you are making decisions as a couple.

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hakayama December 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm

@Travestine: It looks like you and I have read two different postings by Shalamar…
As I read it, it was not Shalamar that divided her DH’s family. It was not the BORING aspect of his family that was the root of what you call “division”.
It appeared that it was the totally unhinged controlling wench of a mother, that practically “excommunicated” her adult son from the bosom of the family. ;-) In her selfish unbalanced mind, the son that did not fulfill her wishes and follow her dictates, was a bad son. Never mind the long trip with small children…
I am sure that the son is a sadder man who realized how sick his mother was, but he gained peace at holiday time and all other times.

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Been There December 3, 2012 at 11:07 pm

May I point out where I saw this story take a bad turn?

It was when the writer was told of her mother’s plans, and said she would “keep it in mind” rather than stating right then what her true plans already were. A non-committal statement like that causes people who are enthusiastic about having people over to hear only that the invitee is not already committed to something, so they assume the invitee will accept the invitation once the final plans are made.

The writer had every right to make her own plans, but she needed to be up front and honest about what those plans were rather than being evasive when she heard of what her mother was starting to put together. I have made this same mistake, and learned quickly that being open and telling others of my family’s plans as soon as I could saved a lot of upset in the long run.

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Ergala December 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm

I have another issue with this. Third party invites. One side of my in laws were notorious for this. Someone would be having a get together (hosting it) and then a week or 2 days before the party someone else would call and invite us. Almost as a second thought. After 2 years of this I finally told my husband enough was enough. We notified every single person that any invitation that didn’t come directly from the person hosting was automatically going to get a big NO as an answer. In this case I think that the sister was wrong in calling the OP to tell her. Her mother needed to be the one to call and invite the OP.

As for the sister’s job, well sorry but if you choose a profession where it’s absolutely expected that you will work major holidays you take on the sacrificing that comes with that. You don’t bully your relatives into dropping their plans to come see you when you get a holiday off.

We found out a few weeks ago that Christmas Eve (which is when one set of my in laws celebrates Christmas) will be almost 5 hours from us. We decided that we won’t be going. Last year there wasn’t a get together because my grandfather in law passed away 2 weeks before. We spent Christmas Eve at home, and I have to say it was a very relaxed Christmas for us. We were so sad that he had died as we loved him very much, but I think he would understand us not wanting to drive so far for a few hours with two small children in tow. The sad thing is this might be our last Christmas with my in laws on my mother in law’s side. My sister in law is moving back to the area and my husband and I want absolutely nothing to do with her. She’s caused so much damage and so many issues that my husband and I cut ties. We didn’t even send her a change of address notice when we moved. She doesn’t know our address, phone number…nothing. Therefore we have absolutely no desire to see her on what is supposed to be a happy holiday.

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Saucy December 3, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Travestine – I think you really crossed a line when you stated that Shalamar was attempting to divide the family and get her own way. I can definitely see how he is happy to not spend time with people who attempt to manipulate him and call him a ‘bad son’ for making certain decisions. I am really sorry for your loss and that many members of your family have passed away, and that you wish you could have spent more time with them. What you have to understand though is that not everyone is able to experience a wonderful family like you have, and many families can be emotionally manipulative and really take it out on your self-worth, to the point where it is actually healthier to remove yourself from the situation.

I’m also going to mimic the question JWH asked – what about single people? Do single people not have the right too to spend time over Christmas by themselves or with friends? As someone who is planning to remain single perhaps for a long time/my entire life and doesn’t plan to have kids, I would still wish at some point to break away from the family. Every second year my mother, father and sisters drive twelve hours to be with my mother’s family and it really is exhausting. This year I moved out, and thought I would be exempted from joining them for such a long, tiring trip. No such luck. Because of the long trip we’re often there for weeks, and spending that amount of time with my father causes me a great deal of stress as we don’t have the best relationship and he often makes me feel awful and takes it out on my mental health.

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Cat Whisperer December 4, 2012 at 1:17 am

First, some practical advice:

When you are having a discussion with someone over the telephone, and the conversation is starting to get heated, it is perfectly okay to tell that person, “Sis [or mom, or dad, or whoever], I can see this discussion is heading ‘off the rails’ and I don’t want it to go there. I think we should both take a time-out and think about things before we say anything regretable. Talk to you later.” *Click* and you hang up.

This is not rude as long as you say it politely. There is no reason to allow a telephone call to degenerate into mutual recriminations, accusations, or guilt-tripping. Hanging up on someone who is getting out of control on the phone, or when you feel yourself losing control, is a much politer option than continuing with a conversation that is no longer civil or respectful of feelings. Yes, it takes some real spine to do this; and yes, you can bet your bippy that the person on the other end is going to be upset plenty when you do it, and may take offence at your hanging up. But in the long run, it is better for everyone involved to cut a conversation short when it’s getting out of control. This is a much kinder and more thoughtful option than saying things (or being told things) that might be very hard to forgive.

So when things start going sour, make your apologies and HANG UP. Immediately.

Now, the hard part: carving out boundaries in your relationship with others. For some reason, in most families, there’s usually someone who wants to hold the holidays hostage. Someone for whom a proprosal to see them at a time other than the specific date of the holiday represents abandonment, betrayal and familial high treason. Someone who has declared that they, and only they, know the Right And Proper Way For Family To Celebrate.

This is sad. People who are secure in their love for others, and in the love that others have for them, know that the important thing is spending time together and enjoying that time together. The actual date the time is spent together is less important than the feelings that you have for each other, and how you treat each other all the rest of the time when it isn’t the actual calendar date that says “Christmas” (or Thanksgiving, or Valentine’s Day, or whatever Hallmark Card date it is).

The take-away from this, OP, is that you are within your rights to declare that you and your fiance want to carve out some “alone together” time on Christmas. It sounds like you gave the other parties involved sufficient notice that you wanted to do that, that your reasons for wanting to do your own thing are reasonable, and that you were respectful in the way you dealt with other family members who had objections….right up until you stayed on the phone with your sister when things started going sour in the conversation. So up until that point, you had right on your side, etiquette-wise.

However, while you have a right to refuse to allow your relatives to hold the holiday hostage, that doesn’t mean that your relatives are going to be happy about this, or respectful of your right. It also sounds as if what you have on your hands right now is a struggle for control of the family dynamics. Sis, particularly, sounds like she’s got an “alpha” personality and isn’t going to back down.

Since this is an etiquette site, my advice is to stake out your position firmly but politely: you are willing to get together with family on some other near-Christmas date that is mutually agreeable, but you want the actual Christmas day as quality alone-time for you and your fiance. Be polite about this, refuse to be drawn into recriminations or hauling out past grievances. Acknowledge that the other parties have a right to feel the way they do (people always have a right to their feelings), but that even in disagreement, people who love each other can behave with civility and respect for each other.

…And if they aren’t civil and respectful in discussing the matter, or you feel yourself unable to be civil and respectful, remember that it is never wrong to end a discussion before it turns nasty.

Good luck.

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anon December 4, 2012 at 1:21 am

I agree with others who have said that it is your (and your fiance’s) decision to make – as adults, you have the right to have a holiday of your own if that’s what you want; especially if the alternative is to spend time with people who may make the day unpleasant now that you have tried to change the way ‘things should be’.

My situation is rather opposite that of the OP’s. Before my husband and I married (a little over two years ago), we spent the holidays separately with our own families, because, like several others, we wanted to enjoy one last Christmas with them. Well before the wedding, we had discussed what we would do around the holidays after we got married, and while my husband expressed some interest in celebrating on our own, or splitting holidays between families, it was important to me to try to get together with both families for the major holidays – it just wouldn’t feel like (insert holiday) to me if I didn’t get to see my family at all… I feel that since some of our more elderly family members may not be with us much longer we should celebrate with them now while we are still able to do so. We will have plenty of time to start our own traditions down the road.

Since our families live within 20 minutes of each other, this hasn’t been a problem for us at all, and I know that both sets of parents appreciate our efforts (although I know that if things were differemt, neither side would try to guilt us into changing plans). I guess we’re lucky that it has worked out so well for us – we have decided to keep things the way they are for now. Of course, the arrival of kid(s) could very well change all of this!

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NostalgicGal December 4, 2012 at 2:11 am

After 30 years of marriage my parents are still ‘surprised’ when I talk about DH’s side of family or have to choose and make plans that also include DH’s family. We went up for a special trip to see my parents end of Oct and stayed at a number of (and visited) on his side of family on way there and back (this is 2 14 hour days of driving each way!) (even one sister travelled to stay over and see DH at a brother’s house as we could not go as far as her place this trip-another 6 hours each way for us)

Our family tradition was always to drag over to another relative’s for Christmas and it rather shot the day for anything ‘at home’ and definitely caused issues with ‘opening gifts on Christmas morning’ (and the year we HAD to drag everything over there for a ‘combined gift opening’, they didn’t wait for us even though we left super early to get there at a reasonably early morning hour-8 am, and my younger cousins managed to bust everything of mine because ‘I had to share’…. never a word of apology for that one either-super unlovely Christmas for being 10)

One nice thing about moving out to go to college was getting out from under that ‘thumb’.. and the transition to ‘another whole family to consider’ still hasn’t happened yet .. on my side.

Yes, it’s a mixed family now, and ‘slipping out from under the thumb’ can be difficult. I do feel for the OP getting it from a sibling but. I’m hoping it sorts out on her side, and it won’t take 30 years or more. I also agree with the OP should have stated right from the start what the intended plans were.

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The Elf December 4, 2012 at 7:54 am

Really, Sister’s behavior just underscores how awesome it will be to have Christmas with just the spouse and the cats. You have no reason to feel guilty.

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The Elf December 4, 2012 at 8:05 am

Rap, “You know, this is why I dislike the holiday of Christmas – well, this and the gift giving. The non stop guilt trips… without any acknowledgement that it’s simply not easy to get the family together nor is it all that pleasant.”

Yes. This. Except for the gift giving, which I truly enjoy.

There’s something about Christmas that forces a false pretense on so many families. We’re going to all get together and be merry as a family because THAT IS WHAT FAMILIES DO. IT WILL BE PERFECT. And then when it isn’t, because nothing is perfect and people are people, then it’s RUINED. It’s as bad as weddings for creating false expectations. For some reason, other holidays and family reunions and get-togethers and parties don’t carry this kind of baggage (except for the aforementioned weddings). But Christmas? I started opting out years ago and was never happier. We were doing the balance thing, and the split family thing, and the make sure we see everyone thing, on top of the having-to-work-on-Christmas thing, and after a while I just started to hate Dec 25. Now that we have a low-key and relaxed Christmas, it’s bliss.

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The Elf December 4, 2012 at 8:18 am

Travestine, I understand your point and your grief. I’m sorry for your loss. But I don’t see why we can’t have “Christmas” on, oh, Dec 28. Or Jan 2. Or Dec 15. Or Thanksgiving, as we did one year with MIL since she was traveling with a friend for the whole month of December. Special family memories can be made then too.

And really, a toast and a movie? Sounds like an awesome Christmas to me. Great memories are made from those days too.

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Mrs. Lovett December 4, 2012 at 9:37 am

I was a little surprised at the people who think that just because OP and fiance aren’t married yet, they aren’t a “true” family. They may not legally be recognized as a family, but the day of the marriage is typically not the day a couple decides to spend the rest of their lives together – the day they get engaged is. Married or not, they are choosing to combine their lives into one life together, so this year is as much their time to be with each other as a family as much as any future year will be. And OP, you have every right to spend that time with your fiance and felines, and I hope it is a lovely holiday for you and your loved ones.

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Sarah Jane December 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

Who has read the letter about wedding invitations in Hell’s Bells last week? The one where the OP was unsure whether to assume his/her partner was invited to the wedding?

I’m certainly not trying to hijack this thread, but I’d like to make an observation. There is much discussion in Hell’s Bells about presumptions that should be made about committed couples regardless of marital status.

OP is obviously committed to her fiancé…there’s no indication whether they live together, but that’s not really relevant. Yet, there are some posters who point out that this is her “last Christmas” as a “single” person, and they suggest that this should have some impact on her and her family. (I know her fiancé was invited to her family’s; that’s not the question I’m raising here.)

How is this Christmas any different for OP and her family than next Christmas will be simply because by then she will have a marriage certificate?

I know this issue is not crucial to the etiquette questions raised in this story, but I still find the difference in attitudes interesting. Does anyone else?

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Bint December 4, 2012 at 10:50 am

I feel the pain. None of our families lives near us, my husband is from another country, my parents are divorced and neither has remarried. Christmas is a constant merry-go-round of who is hosting which parent or are we going to my inlaws.

However. It is, as noted, one day. OK, it becomes several days when we have to travel or have guests, but in the grand scheme of a year, my husband and I have so many more to make special just for us. At Christmas we will see one lot, then try to see another over new year, because we don’t see them often.

My best friend and her boyfriend stay at home together on Christmas Day ‘so he can walk about in his pants eating chcoolate’. Fair play to them! Maybe Boxing Day.

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Lilac December 4, 2012 at 11:22 am

I think the OP’s sister is a bit out of line but I can’t help feeling sorry for the OP’s mom. As my kids get older, I am starting to be able to visualize a time when they won’t be celebrating the holidays with me as a family. It breaks my heart! I love spending time with my kids and I would hope they will always feel that they WANT to spend time with me. But I agree that parents should not try to manipulate their children into spending time with them or laying on the guilt trip. Conversely, I don’t think there is anything wrong with letting your child know that you are disappointed and wish they could be with you for the holidays. If it makes the kid feel guilty, so be it. All the cards are on the table and everyone is being honest. Parents are entitled to their feelings too. If the parent harps about it for years afterwards, says hurtful things, etc. then it’s a different story. I remember one year when my own grandmother ended up alone on Thanksgiving. I was at my then husband’s house and my dad (her son) was out of town. She didn’t harp on it but she let us know how bad she felt. From that day on I made sure she had somewhere to go for the holidays. If my dad was traveling she came with me to my in-laws house. To this day I feel bad about that one lonely Thanksgiving. If she hadn’t said anything, I would not have known how she felt or tried to find a solution.
Really, if everyone stays reasonable and flexible the holidays can be a pleasure for everyone. As far as Christmas goes, it’s never been very stressful because everyone HAS been pretty reasonable–my own mom being the most flexible of the bunch. My ex-husband’s family usually plans a party the week-end before Christmas. They have 7 kids and over 20 grandkids who also have their own families. They know very well, that they have the best chance of a great turnout by having their family Christmas party a few days ahead of time. My dad always does dinner on Christmas day. He is the most inflexible so we work around him. My mom has to deal with her husband’s daughters plan (and she’s a flake) so my mom and I just figure out something that works around everyone else. This year we’re having Christmas brunch at my house. Next year it could be something different.We figure something out because we all actually want to be together!

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Cat Whisperer December 4, 2012 at 1:08 pm

@The Elf:

EXACTLY!!!!!!

I do not understand why people get their knickers in a knot because of one specific day on the calendar.

“The Holidays” is an entirely arbitrary thing. “Christmas day” or “Thanksgiving day” or “Valentine’s day” are arbitrary dates. Yes, they are widely observed and they do have, in some cases, a major cultural and/or religious connotation. But they are all still just arbitrary dates.

If the whole idea of a “family Christmas” is a time to get together, give gifts to people you care about because you love them and want to see them happy, eat a festive meal and enjoy the time you have together, why do you have to do this on only one specific date? Does that mean that if you choose to come together on, say, December 20th instead of December 25th, you can’t give gifts to people you love, you can’t prepare and eat a festive meal, you can’t enjoy the time you have together? Or that if you do these things on any day other than December 25th, it isn’t special and you can’t consider it “Christmas-y”?

Does it mean that every other 364 days of the year you don’t enjoy each other, don’t want to get together, don’t want to give gifts to people you care about, and can’t eat a festive meal together?

Heck fire, it may be heresy to say this, but by golly you can even celebrate the religious significance of Christmas any other day of the year. You can set out a nativity scene, sing carols, read the passages in the Bible about the birth of Christ, give thanks for blessings of the Saviour any and every day you please, even do it twice a day if that’s the way it takes you! You don’t have to wait for December 25th to do that.

As for snuffly tearful whiney whimpery simpers that you only have a limited number of Christmases in your life, why can’t you spend that One Special Day with your family… well hey, what about February 29ths? You only have one fourth the number of Leap Year Days that you have Christmases! Are you going to waste those precious, precious rare Leap Year Days and not spend them with family? You’re NOT? ….How selfish can you be?! How can you let your mother/father/siblings/extended family spend that One SPECIAL UNIQUE Day out of Every Four Years miserable and lonely while you do whatever it is you’ve (selfishly and thoughtlessly) been doing?

You only have a limited number of March 17ths, or February 21sts, or October 5ths, or fourth Saturdays of the month, or second Wednesdays after the last waxing moon of Autumn or whatever. You mean you don’t spend those special, special, precious and entirely limited dates celebrating with your FAMILY?!? (*smacks head*) Ye cats and little fishes, how can you do that and live with yourselves?

The idea of “the holidays” is to show love, express feelings of gratitude for each other, make wonderful memories and build a bond that will endure beyond the changes of time and events and even beyond death. That’s the perfect Christmas we all yearn for, isn’t it? Something we have together with the people we share our lives and love with and can hang onto no matter what the future brings, through all the vagaries of time and change and chance. That’s the “bull’s eye” we’re trying to hit when we “celebrate Christmas.” Something beyond time.

Beyond time. Like, maybe, beyond the arbitrariness of one specific date on the calendar?

When you look at “the holidays” that way, and are perfectly aware that you can lose the opportunity to have that with someone you love literally in a heartbeat, then you realize that it isn’t the specific date of “the holidays,” or any specific holiday, that counts. It’s every single day that you have on this earth. And that means that every day and any day that you want to and can swing it, you can choose to celebrate a “holiday” with someone you love.

…And that if you arbitrarily decide that one day, and one day only (or one “season,” and one “season” only) is when you must absolutelypositively have to celebrate, and that the “celebration” has to be done exactly to someone’s specifications or it’s not a celebration, then it seems to me that you’ve missed the whole point of “celebrating the holidays.”

JMO.

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Angel December 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Travestine, let me just say that I completely respect your point of view. It is difficult when we lose loved ones and yes, it’s devastating when you are not able to spend time with a loved one for their last Christmas. My grandmother’s last Christmas was spent with her lying on her deathbed, and we all took turns being with her on that day, in between a subdued dinner at my aunt’s house. I will never forget just praying for my grandmother’s pain to be over. She suffered so much. And passed on the 27th. So yes, I am glad that I was able to spend those last few precious days with her by her side.

It doesn’t sound like this is the case for the OP at all. Yes, things can happen, people take ill or die suddenly, but, this can happen at any time for any one of us. I would prefer to live each day to the fullest, see my family and my inlaws when I can (and not necessarily on the holiday itself) but I refuse to feel badly for spending Thanksgiving with my inlaws instead of my own family, and Christmas day with my family instead of my inlaws. In this day and age there are so many other ways to keep in touch even between visits. Skype is great and one of my coworkers kept in touch with her son and grandkids in between visits. I don’t think anyone should have to feel guilty around the holidays, if they know they are doing the right thing and keeping in touch all during the year :)

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travestine December 4, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Thank you, Shalamar, it wasn’t clear from your post that your family spent any time with your husband’s family. And I have to say, your initial post did sound rather gleeful that you had put an end to these family holiday visits. I know how annoying staring at boring TV with family can be if that’s not your thing – every visit with my paternal grandparents was spent in a smoky apartment, watching stupid 60′s gameshows. It was excrutiating – but they are the only memories I have of my grandparents.

I guess my point, for the OP and for others who find their relatives a pain and an inconvenience, is that, unless the relatives are really heinous, toxic mental cases (much different that your garden-variety passive-agressive manipulative MIL), a few hours a couple of times a year is not a huge sacrifice, especially if there are kids involved. Sometimes, I think we think too much about what kind of holiday WE want to have and not enough about what kind of holiday we can CREATE as an extended family, if we just let go of our selfishness.

Try putting yourself in the place of a grandparent who looks forward to the holidays as the only time they can spend with the family they used to be surrounded with, as you are now on a daily basis, and imagine the holidays as a gift of a break in their loneliness. Once upon a time, their homes were full of children and busyness and school and sports and now, it’s just quiet. Yes, maybe it seems manipulitive and maybe they lay on guilt trips, but perhaps that comes from the disappointment of not having that loneliness broken for that one day.

If you can give one gift that won’t cost much this year, give the gift of your time. Listen to your MIL or your FIL. Ask them about their days. Ask about when their child or children were younger and how they spent their holidays. Be prepared for tears. Try not to think of them as ‘not your family’ or something you must endure. They are so grateful you are there – even if it doesn’t look like it.

Relatives can be a pain. They are imperfect, difficult, awkward and uncomfortable. But they are family.

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The Elf December 4, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Cat Whisperer, If I could hoot and applaud in my cubicle and not get the hairy eyeball, I would.

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Audra December 4, 2012 at 5:03 pm

To @Cat Whisperer: Your second post had me rolling. So true!

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Rap December 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm

“Conversely, I don’t think there is anything wrong with letting your child know that you are disappointed and wish they could be with you for the holidays. If it makes the kid feel guilty, so be it. All the cards are on the table and everyone is being honest. Parents are entitled to their feelings too. ”

In fairness, why can’t a parent be mature about a situation. If your child marries someone, do you think your child needs to hear on every holiday that they miss so that their spouse can see his or her family that the child has disappointed mom and dad yet again by choosing the inlaws over *blood*?

How does the child ever win this arguement? Only by screwing their spouse over for every holiday. And remember, the spouse’s parents also have the right to put the cards down on the table and be honest how disappointed they are, because if it makes the kids feel guilty, well parents have the right to their feelings and apparently have the right to act like petulant toddlers if they don’t get their way.

I’m not trying to be harsh, I’m just not seeing how a married couple can avoid being made to feel guilty over *every* holiday if mom and dad on both sides have the right to let it be known how deeply disappointed they are that their adult children aren’t bending to their will and sacrificing their partner’s relationship with their own family in order to please mom and dad.

The Elf – Yeah I am not against the gift giving really, just frustrated by it when it pertains to family. The expectation issue is where I had to opt out, myself. Its never going to be that Norman Rockwell fantasy and I think we’d all be happier if we scaled back the expectations.

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OP December 4, 2012 at 5:57 pm

OP here, thanks for your support, guys! Yes, I know I should have been more clear in my answer to my sister, but I’m still getting used to standing up to my family. And they have to get used to to me not folding, as I used to do that. My youngest sister did get in on the protest, but I was able to stand up to her better, and I think both of them are ignoring the issue. Or, at least until the next thing comes along. They seem to thrive on drama. They’ve organised something close to us before Xmas with my Dad’s family that we will be attending.

Just to alleviate confusion, they’re no longer hosting an event near us, it’s at their home two hours away.

And a note: neither FH nor myself drive, so the visit would involve us getting there by public transport on public holiday timetables there and back the same day. I didn’t say it to them, but the idea of spending a good portion of Christmas sitting in a train doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.

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Cat Whisperer December 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm

@Travertine said:

“…Try putting yourself in the place of a grandparent who looks forward to the holidays as the only time they can spend with the family they used to be surrounded with, as you are now on a daily basis, and imagine the holidays as a gift of a break in their loneliness. Once upon a time, their homes were full of children and busyness and school and sports and now, it’s just quiet. Yes, maybe it seems manipulitive and maybe they lay on guilt trips, but perhaps that comes from the disappointment of not having that loneliness broken for that one day….”

This kind of “loneliness,” unless it’s caused by illness or infirmity that makes it absolutely impossible for the grandparents to leave their residence, is a choice. If you’re healthy enough to get around independently, deciding to be all by yourself and lonely because your family has made other plans is a purely volitional thing. Grandma or grandpa who sits at home being disappointed that the family isn’t swooping in to save them from their lonely old age has nobody to blame but themselves for their situation.

Here are some things that people I know of, who either don’t have extended family at all or whose extended family can’t or won’t get together with them for the holidays, have done:

–One grandma and grandpa I know of decided to hell with the family Thanksgiving, with the kids out of the house and able to do their own thing, they take off on an annual vacation! They’ve done cruises, they’ve done Las Vegas, they’ve road-tripped to places they always wanted to go to but couldn’t when they were raising the family. And they sure seem to be enjoying themselves.

–One childless couple I know of spends their Thanksgivings and Christmases helping to prepare and serve holiday dinners at a homeless shelter. There is a regular group of friends who do that; after they’ve done their stint with the shelter, they go out together and have Chinese food as a group.

–I know a couple who live near a military base who, after their kids were grown and moved far away, started hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with soldiers from the base who were stationed away from their families.

–There’s a group I know of at a local church who get together to put together packages to send to military people serving overseas. They do this for several weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then whichever members of the group don’t have plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas themselves get together and have a holiday dinner.

I know of people who volunteer in hospitals over holidays so that staff and other volunteers who have families can take the time off; I know of people who volunteer at Red Cross blood donation centers; I know lots of people who are without families over the holidays who spend the time in some way helping people in the community, and in so doing find themselves with many friends and no time for loneliness.

Husband and I are within shouting distance of our daughter being ready to leave the nest. Since husband’s parents and my parents are all deceased, his siblings are on the other coast and not close to him and one of my siblings is in the midwest and won’t travel and the other sibling isn’t terribly social, we’re looking at a future of spending holidays without family.

And that’s just fine with me. If our daughter flies the coop and finds a happy nest of her own, and wants to spend her holidays there, I’m fine with that and so is her father. We want her to have a future that’s happy and filled with joy, and we know she’s going to outlive us, so that means she needs to establish a life that isn’t dependent on us for companionship. I’d rather spend holidays without her, knowing she’s found what’s going to make her happy in the future, than have her spending time with us and not be certain about her future. I’m going to die some day; it would be nice to know before that happens that daughter is well established in a life where she doesn’t need us.

And you won’t catch us sitting lonely and inviting her to a “pity party” or a “guilt gala.” Whatever we do if daughter spends the holidays elsewhere, it won’t be sitting on our duffs wallowing in self-pity and expecting someone else to take responsibility for our happiness and companionship, not if we’re capable of leaving the house unassisted. I don’t know for sure what we’ll be doing, but I do know it won’t involve being lonely because our family didn’t choose to spend time with us on the holiday. I can make that choice right now, in advance.

My suggestion for the hypothetical grandparents in your posting: get off your hineys. Get Skype and talk regularly to your kids and grandkids. If you can’t get together for the holidays, then get together whenever you can, wherever you can, and enjoy yourselves. An empty nest is an opportunity: find something you love to do, something you want to try, and start doing it. Happiness is mostly a choice, and nobody else but you is responsible for your own happiness.

Guilting family because you’ve made them responsible for your happiness is exactly what you labeled it to be: manipulative. And that’s really not healthy for anyone.

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NicoleK December 5, 2012 at 6:59 am

I think it was a big mistake to say “You’d keep it in mind”. That sounds like a yes. I would have thought it was a yes.

You’re entitled to spend Christmas however you like, with whomever you like. However, the message that you are sending to your family is that they are not very important to you. It is possible that they are, in fact, not important to you, and that’s ok. However if they ARE important, and you still don’t want to change your plans, I strongly suggest you do something to make them feel loved and important.

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NicoleK December 5, 2012 at 7:05 am

We do a three-year rotation… parents, inlaws, our place. Everyone is welcome to our place, though we can’t provide sleeping accommodations for everyone, so some people might need to stay in a hotel. Everyone knows whose year it is, so there is no point in arguing. If possible, we do try to do a Christmasy thing with the other family on not the “day of”. And we’ve made Solstice “our” Christmas when we are at someone elses, which avoids having to schlep gifts around in suitcases, now that baggage is so limited on flights.

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Michelle December 5, 2012 at 8:10 am

Ohhhh boy. The Christmas holidays are indeed upon us! I remember listening to a friend of mine (I’ll call her Wilma) who was still upset years after this happened. Wilma never married, and lived with her parents all her life. Her sister (I’ll call her Jenny) married 30 years ago and moved one state over. So Jenny and her husband would come frequently for short visits, as his family lived within a 60 mile radius of Wilma and her parents. The tradition was that Jenny and her husband would come “home” for the holidays, and Christmas Eve and Christmas day would be spent in their entirety with sister Wilma and parents.

Except for one year. One year that will live in Wilma’s mind in infamy. Jenny and her husband came and spent Christmas Eve with Wilma and parents, but spent ALL OF CHRISTMAS DAY at husband’s family’s house 60 miles away. According to Wilma, that was wrong wrong wrong! I remember Wilma telling me this story in a restaurant over dinner years later – how Jenny and her husband did not get home until almost midnight Christmas day, and Wilma insisted that they not go to bed until they had unwrapped their presents. So, tired as they all were, they sat there unwrapping presents that would still have been there the following morning after a good night’s sleep. In telling me this story (and this happened at least a good 15 years prior), Wilma was still extremely peeved that Jenny had been absent ALL OF CHRISTMAS DAY. All I said when she finished telling me this story was “wow”. I figured she could take that any way she liked.

I say – let’s bring back the old tradition of the 12 days of Christmas, and that spreads everything out so well that everybody should be able to get their way at some point (since that appears to be what it’s all about for so many people!).

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Michele December 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

@Mrs. Lovett

I was one of “the people who think that just because OP and fiance aren’t married yet, they aren’t a ‘true’ family.” I dated my husband for over six years, followed by a two year engagement, before I married him. We weren’t a family until we got married; for the first eight years we were just a couple.

I’m so tired of the people that say that engaged or dating couples are exactly the same as a married couple. To me, people who are sooooo in love that they’ll live together, plan lives together, adopt cats together, etc., but still choose to delay marriage ought to expect to be treated differently than a married couple. Know why? Because they aren’t married.

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The Elf December 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm

….. And this is why I prefer Halloween.

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KJ December 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm

This is a bit of a touchy subject for me. I would just like to say that it is true that couples living together are not the same as married couples, in most states that is the law. That being said, in my humble little opinion, the most important part of marriage is what is in your heart. I have known people who have gotten married for a multitude of reasons, love being the least of them.

My husband and I did not live together before being married either, but rest assured that he was important enough to ME (after a lengthy “courtship”), that I considered him part of my family. Just because the OP and her fiance had not gone through the ceremony yet does not make their decisions any less valid.

I would also like to add that I realize my opinons are my own, and in no way intend to diminish the opions or feelings of others.

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Anonymous December 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm

@Michele–Some people feel that living common-law is akin to marriage, if they do it in the way you described–long term, adopting pets (or even having children), and living as if they were married. They know that they love each other, and they don’t need a piece of paper to “prove” it. Some might eventually get married, but delay it by choice, or for financial or logistical reasons. I know it’s easy to say that people can just elope, or do a “quickie” marriage ceremony at the courthouse or similar (like my parents did), but some people don’t want to do that, either because of their own preferences, or because their families want to be there for their weddings, and doing it “quick and dirty” could hurt their feelings. So, my point is, just like there’s no one “right” way to celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday, there’s no “right” way for two people to acknowledge and/or celebrate their commitment to one another.

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Sandra December 5, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I’m trying not to be too grinchy about it, but attempting to manage everyone’s schedules and expectations for the holidays is proving to be a real buzzkill (and I’m one of the lucky (?) ones with a small family that lives close by, so no atrocious travel, but still plenty of conflicting personality types.) As the OP points out, them’s tricky waters to navigate.

I’m an only child, and every Christmas it was just me, my mom and my dad, with a couple of grandparents and an aunt and uncle or two thrown into the mix. And every Christmas was spent with that same group of people, doing roughly the same things year after year after year. Enjoyable things, but the same things all the same. Until the year I turned 21, entered my first serious romantic relationship and made plans to spend half of Christmas Day with his family.

My boyfriend and I spent Christmas morning with my parents and then went over to his sister’s for an early festive lunch, where we had a great time opening gifts and eating too much cheese, although I really did miss partaking in my little family’s holiday traditions. But back home my tremendously mercurial mother was weeping and shunning all of my father’s better efforts to cajole her into a better mood because I ABANDONED HER ON CHRISTMAS DAY.

TO THIS DAY I continue to be regaled with this heartwarming little story every time the subject of plans with my husband’s family comes up (thankfully for my mom, he doesn’t get on very well with his folks, so we don’t see them very often) although these days it always comes with a somewhat bashful smile. Do I think my mom overreacted? Oh yeah. Do I understand why she spent Christmas Day bawling into a pile of wrapping paper? Of course. Every Christmas Day tradition she had known for 21 years had just gone down the tube in one spectacular shot, and she was mouring both the change and the unknown.

I could SO have done without the guilt trip, though. I think the OP feels the same. These situations are difficult enough to tap dance your way through without everybody’s feelings getting hurt because of normal, natural change.

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kingsrings December 5, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I agree with what Michele said. If you want to be treated like a married couple is, then get married. If you don’t, you won’t, end of story.

Back to the original story…..I can’t imagine how it’s enjoyable to spend the holidays schlepping around to different houses to celebrate each part of the holiday. I’ve got a friend right now who is trying to find out how to split the holidays four ways, as she and her boyfriend each have their kids, and need to be with both sides of the family. What a nightmare! My solution is, save your holiday cheer and spend each holiday with a chosen family unit. The holidays are a much more enjoyable experience, then. If people don’t understand, then too bad.

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The Elf December 6, 2012 at 7:55 am

Married vs. Unmarried…… There’s lots of reasons for a committed couple not to marry, some more complicated than others. A really simple one? That they legally can’t. Marriage is a legal document, after all.

I certainly felt that I was a part of a committed couple a few years before we actually married. We postponed marriage until both of us were through college. Legally, we could have married, it was just impractical to do so. It would have messed up health insurance, loans for school, and our living situation (no dorms for married couples). That and I think both sets of parents would have had a collective fit over their 18 year olds getting married! We got enough flack for being “too young” at 21! I would have been upset if my parents had treated my then-boyfriend and differently than my now-husband (same man). Thankfully, they never have.

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Mrs. Lovett December 6, 2012 at 9:04 am

@Michele and kingsrings, I respect your perspective and I understand where you’re coming from. However, not everyone has the same perspective as you do, and they are entitled to their own viewpoint and their own decisions regarding their own commitment. It’s true that being only engaged, they have no legal protections regarding their relationship and their family members and friends may feel that because they’re not married their relationship is not fully committed. However, OP and her fiance have every right to define their relationship as they see it from a social viewpoint. If they are committed and plan to spend their lives together, they may already consider each other family and have every right to behave as family.

A good friend died recently and she’d been with her partner for 30 years. She had serious health issues and received disability payments and medicaid. If she had married her partner, their joint income would have made her ineligible for medicaid and she never would have been able to get insurance because of her pre-existing conditions. You may not feel that they were family because they never married, but they were husband and wife to each other as much as any married couple I ever knew. Marriage means a lot to a lot of people, and understandably so, but it’s not everything when it comes to defining family.

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