Dear Ann Cannon • So my only son and his wife have been married for almost four years. She’s a very nice young woman — I like her a lot — but as the holidays approach, I find myself resenting the fact that somehow she and my son always end up spending Christmas with her side of the family. There’s always an excuse. Someone’s going on a Mormon mission or someone’s moving away or someone’s getting married, so this will be the last time her family will all be together for the holidays. I’m not sure, but I think my daughter-in-law’s mother drives a lot of it. It seems like she’s one of those women who just naturally assume that girls go home to their mothers and their husbands be damned. And because my daughter-in-law is close to her mother, she goes along with it.
I don’t want to create a problem for my son and his wife, but hey! I’d really like them to spread the Christmas love around a little bit more equally. Any suggestions?
— Tired of Being a Holiday Afterthought
Dear Tired • As I always say, there’s nothing like Christmas to bring out the crazy in even the most functional of families! Happy holidays!
OK. Let’s get down to business here. I assume you’ve already brought this up with your son and his wife at some point? Because you really should if you haven’t already. Remember, people — most of them, anyway — can’t read minds. If you haven’t said something, they may honestly assume you don’t have a problem with the arrangement. And, frankly, it may also be convenient for them to think there isn’t a problem, especially if they’re being pressured by her mother.
Think about approaching the conversation this way. “I’d love for you to spend Christmas with us this year. Can we make that happen?” Be kind. Be inviting. Be direct. Resist the temptation to pull the Guilt Card, which may work in the short run, but could create resentment down the road.
So what happens if you have The Conversation but your kids still decide to spend Christmas with her side of the family? Well, as always, you get to choose how to respond. You can stew in the juices of your resentment. Or you can figure out a way to manage your resentment, which (admittedly) isn’t easy. The urge to keep score, after all, runs strong in human beings. Think about creating a holiday tradition of your own — like throwing a big happy messy family Christmas party that takes place NOT on Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, I feel compelled to write a letter of my own right now.
Dear Mothers and Fathers of America • Let me tell you about one of the best gifts my mother ever gave me. The first year I was married, I told her my husband and I would not be spending Christmas Eve with her. I was worried about her reaction because Christmas Eve was sacrosanct at Chez Edwards. I was the oldest and the first to marry, so I was breaking with a pattern that was familiar and comfortable to us all.
Her initial response was pretty much what I’d expected it to be. She was at the kitchen sink, washing dishes. When I told her, she carefully put down her dish and even gripped the edge of the counter. “Wait. You won’t be with us for Christmas Eve? I cannot believe this.”
I gulped and nodded.
Then she took a deep, deep breath and said, “Sweetheart, that’s OK. That is absolutely OK.”
The moral of this story? Parents, be willing to share your children. Encourage them to be fair. Fair to you. Fair to the other families in their lives, too.
— Ann Cannon