Dear Ann Cannon • My husband and I are going to take a trip to New York City next week with his mother. I honestly like and admire my mother-in-law. She’s always been very kind and supportive where I’ve been concerned. But I’m a little worried about all the “together-ness” the three of us will be experiencing. I’ll be honest. I’m not that easygoing and I worry that I may say or do something stupid in a bad moment. Do you have any suggestions for me?
— Nervous Nellie
Dear Nervous Nellie • Lucky you! Manhattan in December is truly magical. The lights! The window displays! THE ROCKETTES! You’re going to have a great time.
OK. I’m impressed you own the fact that you’re not especially easygoing. Most of us aren’t so honest about ourselves. You’re also smart to recognize that a lot of family time— even if you really, really like your family — can be a trigger. I remember the time I suddenly jumped out of our car at a stop sign while we were vacationing in southern California because I was sick of everybody and FOR SURE everybody was sick of me.
But that’s another story.
So, what can you do when you start to feel stressed? Try isolating yourself for a few or five or 10 minutes, although I don’t recommend leaping out of a car at a crosswalk to do it. Instead, step outside, take a deep breath and enjoy a short, brisk walk. The air this time of year in New York is bracing. It’ll cure what ails you. Meanwhile, if you do temporarily lose your cool, quickly apologize. And if others lose theirs, forgive and forget.
Dear Ann Cannon • Both of my adult sons and their families are traveling here to spend Christmas with us. While I’m excited to see everybody, I also feel apprehensive. Sometimes things get tense when my sons get together. They have never really liked each other very much, even though they’re brothers. I was an only child and more than anything I wanted siblings, so it bothers me that my boys don’t appreciate one another. In fact, it makes me really sad. I’d love it if they were each other’s best friend — or if not best friends, at least good friends. Any tips to help me facilitate a friendship between my grownup kids?
— Anxious Mama
Dear Anxious • I think plenty of readers can feel your pain. I know my own mother (who was also an only child) has often said to me that her dearest hope is for my brothers and me to remain on good terms. Like you, she views siblings as the gift she never had.
The reality is, however, that sometimes brothers and sisters don’t like each other. It’s easy to store up resentments after years of bumping elbows with one another — especially if the siblings involved have very little in common beyond shared parentage. A friend of mine who came from a large family once told me that none of his brothers and sisters would have chosen the others for friends because they were all so different from one another.
Which brings us to your question. What can you do to facilitate a friendship between your sons? The answer is not much beyond setting the expectation that they will be respectful and cordial to one another when they’re in your home. In fact, trying to force a friendship is likely to drive them further apart. Building a relationship is their choice and their job, not yours.
Meanwhile, try to let go of your anxiety about the situation, which is difficult to do. I get it. Still, make it a point to enjoy your boys and their families for who they are this holiday, not for who and what you want them to be.