Family- a great concept. A unit often, but not always connected by blood, and which in theory, provides a warm glow of trust, security and love, that can’t be provided in quite the same way by outsiders. Really?????
With Christmas on the horizon, there will be many who are dreading having to spend time with their family; being forced to eat, drink and be merry with people you can’t stand, because we are told that Christmas is a time for family. Brave is the person who says to their parents “actually, I think i’ll spend Christmas with my friends this year”. Braver still the person who opts to spend Christmas with someone else’s family, I have in mind the couple who has to navigate between 2 sets of families.
I always hear stories about massive arguments around the Christmas table, when the alcohol which has been consumed since 9.00 am and starts to work as a truth drug, and family members are told in exacting detail, what you think about them and just where they can shove that drumstick. As ugly as this scene is, year after year, they subject themselves to the same thing out of family loyalty.
So what comes first, your own feelings and sanity, or the feelings of the family?
After many years of not having to consider this question, I will have to do so in the coming weeks, when my mother, who I love, but don’t like very much, will be coming to the UK to spend Christmas with her family, or more accurately, some members of her family, i.e. those she has not yet managed to piss off.
My family has been wrecked for as long as I can remember. I have 2 older brothers, who I never bonded with one, because of the age gap, and two, because they were hardly ever home. They ran away from home frequently and left home for good when they were around 18/19 (that was in the days when one, council housing was readily available, and two, they were allocated to single men).
I also have an older sister and the bond between us was quite strong until I got married, when jealously would not allow her to be happy that her younger sister was getting married before her (she at this point had been engaged for around 10 years). As a result of her jealously, her lack of contentment with her own life and total lack of will to make a change, our relationship deteriorated and we didn’t speak for five years.
When our parents moved back to their country of birth, they (in reality my mother, I don’t think my dad had noticed that one, he hadn’t seen his sons in years, and two, that his daughters weren’t speaking) they begged us to speak, which we did , but the relationship was never the same.
We, my sister and I, spent a couple of Christmases together, her family and mine which i mostly did for my son’s sake as by then, i was divorced and i thought he would have a better Christmas spent with cousins rather than just him and I. On occasions we’d spend Christmas abroad with my parents.
It was one such Christmas, when my mother, embarrassed that at my age I was renting, out of the blue offered me a deposit to get my own place. I was gobsmacked, it was unexpected and such a great gesture. I asked her over and over if she was sure and warned her that my sister (lets call her Sybil- such an ugly name) would not like it at all. “She can’t tell me what to do with my money,” was her reply.
To cut a long story short, I found a property, paid a non refundable holding fee and my mother had allowed Sybil to talk her out of it. I was disappointed that she had allowed her mind to be changed without having a conversation with me, it felt very much like she had picked a side. Anyway, her money, her choice but a certain amount of trust had been lost and I distanced myself from both of them. This was easy enough to do, as I was not close to my sister anyway, and mum lived abroad.
It seems to me, that mum and Sybil were pissed off at the ease with which I was able to get on with my life without them, and the pair of them became quite the bitches, scheming about how they could exclude me some more. This was no surprise so far as Sybil was concerned, but I was shocked by my mother’s attitude because she had always been nice. I had always regarded her as a great mother and grandmother and so i was disappointed to say the least, when she allowed my son’s birthdays and Christmases, to pass without a card even though we had sent her cards for every occasion. Sybil had even tried to put pressure on her daughter, my niece, to stop her talking to me, She actually told her ” you should be on my side”, like a damn five year old. My mother encouraged this, she wrote me a letter to say “if you don’t love the tree, you can’t love the fruit.” Really?????
Sadly, on New Year’s Day, 2018, my dad passed away. He had had Alzeihmer’s for several years but his passing was still unexpected. I had learned via my niece, well in advance of his death, that my mother had already planned that I would not be told of his death, so I got the news via my niece.
Although I hadn’t spoken to my mother for some time, I needed to call her to pass on my condolences and to let her know she only had to ask if she needed anything. I was dreading any hostility, because I knew I wouldn’t handle it very well. I have always believed that you should be respectful to your parents, but if she spoke to me out of turn , I knew I would give it right back as unfortunately, much of the respect between us had been lost.
When I called, she was surprisingly lovely- obviously sad having lost her husband of circa 50 years. However that did not stop her from not sharing the funeral arrangements with me.
So now, here we are in December, and rumour has it that she will be coming to England next week, to spend Christmas and the New Year She will of course be staying with my sister. Mercifully, I will be spending Christmas abroad, but will be back before she goes home. I have to admit, I don’t know how to play it, it’s easy to ignore my mother when she is abroad, but not so easy when she is only staying 3 miles or so down the road.
There is no way I can visit her whilst she is staying with Sybil, and I don’t want to invite her to my place either , as that would mean inviting a woman, who I do not trust, into my life. On the other hand I do feel that I shouldn’t ignore her whilst she is here.
Bizarrely, my sister has sent me and my son, an invitation to have Christmas dinner at her home, which she sent via my niece. She did not know that I would be going away, but if I wasn’t, how on earth would that have worked? Would I just rock up to her home after 5 years of not speaking, and expect to feel comfortable. She will have to save the arsenic for another day.
The grown up part of me says grin and bear my mother’s company, she is only here for a while. But I keep asking myself : Should you really spend time with people you don’t like just because they are family? Surely the stress isn’t worth it.
I guess I will just have to think this one through whilst lying on the beach over Christmas.
Forty, fabulous and definitely still fumbling.
I am very conscious of the message I am giving to my son, now 21, about family – it’s been essentially just him and I since he was 3. I would hate for us to fall out and for him to feel that he did not want to include me in Christmases with his own family in the future. My message to him is that blood is not always thicker than water and the important thing is to be around the people you love, whoever they may be.