Though some people consider Christmas to be a religious holiday and others only consider it an occasion to “play Santa Claus,” it seems that in many families the holidays and special events are anything but “joyous.” Whether it is two sets of in-laws each demanding that the kids be brought to their house for the holidays, when the children and their parents would rather go skiing, or whether it is when the entire extended family gets together to get drunk and scream at each other, the “family holiday” turns into a night mare. Old conflicts and “issues” seem to come alive when the family gets together.
The Christmases in my childhood were pretty “average” I think, it was just my one set of grandparents and my parents, and sometimes my Uncle Monster and his wife and kids would come up, and we would open presents and eat well, and I got to do my favorite thing in the world, be at the farm and ride my horse.
As I became an adult though, and realized just what a true monster Uncle Monster was, I didn’t want to have anything to do with him, including sharing a holiday meal. In a drunken rage, he had held my grandmother at gun point for three days, and after that, I was pretty well done with him. That meant that I didn’t want to “celebrate” the holidays with him at my mother’s house, which my own mother cried and screamed and demanded that I do. In response to these tirades, I would take my kids and/or husband and go to a friend’s house or have Christmas dinner at home.
The Thanksgiving holiday I settled about 18 years ago by going with my living history group to a state park and camping from Wednesday to Sunday and demonstrating “living history” to the people who came to the park for the holiday. I was with happy people and enjoyed myself rather than sitting at my mother’s house looking at Uncle Monster across the table.
My late husband’s sister, who I believe was most likely a borderline personality disordered woman, did her best to disrupt the holidays. We laugh about it now, but once she and her mother were washing the dishes and she was “going off” and her mother hit her on the head with a metal turkey platter, knocking her out cold (though her mom didn’t mean to hit her “that hard.”)
Though they are not “holidays,” even funerals are not exempt as something for the disordered in the family to throw a fit at. My husband’s sister obliged at her father’s funeral in 1984 on Christmas eve when she decided that she needed to be the center of attention, not her mother or the memorial for her father. Her mother told her to leave. After that, none of the family heard from her again, not her mother or her three daughters, until one night in the middle of the night in 1994, my husband and I received a collect telephone call from her. My husband wouldn’t accept the charges and since then, no one has heard from her. We think she was probably calling from a jail somewhere.
When my mother-in-law died, her granddaughters, the three daughters of the disordered sister of my late husband, decided to contest the will and went to great lengths to make our administration of the small estate as problematic as it could be. Those apples didn’t fall far from that tree. One of them is the one who took Patrick in after he got out of prison for aggravated robbery because “his mommy was so mean to him” and she got a SWAT team descending on her house for her trouble after he killed Jessica.
Birthdays and other celebrations such as graduations can also bring out the malice in an offender in the family, and they will do their best it seems deliberately to make it about them. They may not show up when they are expected…which of course, they have a “right” not to go to your college graduation if they don’t want to, but it is a sure sign that they don’t care much for you. It is a big red flag if your spouse won’t attend your college gradation or other ceremony (and not because they are out of town for work) but they just don’t show up.
For most of my life I thought that “blood is thicker than water” meant I had to put up with a lot of things from relatives just because we shared DNA or because we married into that nest of vipers, but we don’t have to have our holidays “ruined” by trying to please others.
We don’t have to spend a lot of money on gifts or decorate to light up the house like Disneyland, unless we really find joy in doing those things. We don’t “owe” anyone a gift if we don’t feel like giving it, and that includes demanding children who want the “latest and greatest” thing you can’t afford. “I’m sorry I can’t afford that…” is a valid statement when dealing with a kid who wants a $350 cell phone that you don’t want him to have anyway.
Here are a couple of good articles about surviving family holiday disasters.
People who want my company for a holiday are free to ask me to share it with them, but not free to demand that I do. Anyone that I do share a holiday with, I expect them to treat me with respect and courtesy, and if they don’t, I won’t share another one with them.
I’ve learned to set boundaries and to enforce them when it comes to people I associate with, and not just on holidays or other special occasions. It wasn’t easy because I had been taught that other people’s happiness depended on me doing what they wanted me to do, even if I didn’t want to do it. Fortunately, I am not obligated to give up my own desires for the demands of others. I don’t “owe” anyone to share a meal with them. If I do so it is because I want to do it.