christmas present

Assorted thoughts about the impending holiday:


I'm finding this Christmas season lonely. The first couple of Christmasses that I decided not to spend time with my parents, I felt liberated. I loved not making the trip, not having to endure the visit, not feeling frustrated with all the things I wished for that didn't happen, not dealing with overtired kids who weren't acommodated at all, not having the post-visit recap/rehash with my husband as I sought validation for the things that bothered me about my mother. This year that freedom is something to which I've become accustomed, and in the absence of the newness of freeing myself from spending time with people I don't really love and who don't really love me, I'm feeling the void that's left. Friends are sharing images of extended family together. Nearly everyone I know is traveling. Friends here at home are wrapped up in their own holiday preparations. We're spending time with my in-laws, but it's not enough for me this year. I miss belonging to a tribe not of my own making, but of my birth. It was never what I wanted it to be, but for a long time I believed that it was, and today I'm missing the blind faith of the enmeshed.


Last week brought a minor victory. While decorating the tree, I came to a little box that contains a blown glass ornament given to me by my mother to commemorate a vacation we took together. Last year, I felt bitter when I found the ornament, and I ended up hanging it on the back of the Christmas tree. This year I realized I didn't need to hide it. The trip was fun. My mother was herself, of course, but I was in her favor at the time and felt special to be included on the trip. The city itself was brilliant, and I felt adventurous and energized. When I picked up the ornament, I had a moment of remembering the good stuff, then hung the ornament in a place that's not extremely prominent, but not hidden, either. Then I moved on to thinking about other ornaments.


I've been listening to the local "lite" radio station a lot lately while working in our basement. This is partly because I don't have other options in the basement, and partly because they play Christmas music at this time of year and even though most of it is really schmaltzy stuff, I'm still a sucker for it. "Lite" stations are often a tad on the excessively-cheesy, mom-and-apple-pie side of things to begin with, but they really amp it up at this time of year. Sometimes while I listen, I get really annoyed by the blind devotion our culture often has to a certain sense of family. While I understand that for many people, there really is "no place like home for the holidays," it bugs me that this is held up as the ideal, the standard. People who don't go home are to be pitied. Dysfunctional families are celebrated (seriously, if I hear Delilah laugh about the wonderfulness of family dysfunction one more time, I'm going to scream...or send a sympathy card to her 12 kids). I wish there were more diversity in the way people conceive of holidays. Not everybody goes over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. Some of us spend those days with friends. Some of those like to be alone with just our nuclear family. Some of us think family dysfunction is anything but laughable. Some of us think that the best gift you can give to yourself is freedom from this ridiculous idealization of blood kin.


This is the first year that I'm not aware at all of what my parents and siblings are doing for Christmas. Not a single detail. It's weird.



  1. Sigh. I can't say I know exactly how you feel (in regards to "missing the dysfunction" so to speak) but I know at some point that will hit my DH. (It hasn't really sunk in yet, I think, that we'll likely never see his FOO again). For now, he's just sort of sailing through, focusing on creating our new "island" here, with me and him and our beautiful babies.

    But, I can relate on the "this is the first year that we're not aware of what DH's parents and siblings are doing for Christmas" thing. It's our first year too. Personally, I'm hugely relieved, and I'll never miss it. Like I said, though, I'm anticipating that DH will feel that way at some point too...I think it's part of the healing process, actually.

    You said something in this post that I wanted to comment on specifically, "I miss belonging to a tribe not of my own making, but of my birth." Is it safe to say that you never really "belonged" there? That's how I've always felt about my DH - like even before I came along (and "messed everything up!" as I'm sure his FOO would say) I felt like DH wasn't a part of his FOO. Not really. He was always somehow on the outside...because there were no real, healthy, loving connections that I could see. And maybe he felt them somewhere, in some faint way, but I couldn't see them...not at all.

    He was apart from his FOO...never a part of them.

    I don't know if that makes any sense. I feel like there is some better way of saying what I mean, but it's not coming out quite right. I suppose I just wonder about that sense of "belonging" you describe. Did you really feel you belonged? Maybe it was your shared dysfunction that made you feel that way?

    Either way, connected or not, belonging or not, I understand the message you convey. It's lonely coming to the realization that you were not loved the way you should have been, and that most of those people will go on continuing to treat you in the same way.

    I hope the feeling passes soon so that you are able to fully enjoy the beautiful family you have created. You deserve them, and they deserve you!!

    (PS I know how difficult it is for those Christmas birthdays. DS is only a week before Christmas and even that is hard. DH's FOO reacted much the same way yours did to his birth - Christmas and their plans were much more important than ours. DH's father knew when my due date was and when we informed him that we wouldn't be coming to his house for Christmas Eve that year because it was too close to my due date, he said things like, "But Christmas is about family!" and "Can't Jonsi go to the hospital from our house if she goes into labor?" and "If you continue to treat your family this way, you'll die alone!") Nice, right? Typical narcissistic crap.

  2. Oh, wow. That "you'll die alone!" comment is such a typical narcissistic lash-out, isn't it? I've had similar comments from my mother. It's nothing but a temper tantrum. I can't have a relationship with somebody who is that emotionally stunted. :P

    Regarding "belonging" - yes, even though membership in my family was often confusing and painful, I did feel like I belonged. I had been indoctrinated by my mother into believing that our family was healthy, and that families that didn't do things our way were weak and wrong. Most of my siblings still cling to that belief. It probably helps that I've taken on the role of permanent black sheep (in my youth I was one of two golden children). As you probably know, when one child is getting the brunt of the black sheep treatment, the others are either given special treatment or ignored. For an enmeshed child, you just want to cling to your idea of your happy family and feel glad that you're not the bad seed.

    Did I really belong? No. Or at least, once I started asserting myself, I no longer did. When I think back on it now with the clarity I gained from age and experience, it was never a healthy relationship. My mother has always harbored resentments toward me and despite moments of family fun, I always felt resentment toward her.

    What I miss is the delusion. I miss the *idea* of a big happy family. It was never real. I prefer reality, even though it can sometimes be lonely. I don't have a "mommy." I never will. It would be nice if I did.

  3. Oh, and HOW DARE YOU put your own needs ahead of your FIL's when you were about to give birth? ;)

    My mom pulled a similar move around the time my 3rd son was born. It was all "ME ME ME, what about MY needs? You should do what I want you to do!" I couldn't believe that she was willing to throw a fit and infringe on the emotional calm of a woman who was about to give birth any day. (Ok, I could believe it, but still...REALLY!!!) Somehow in her mind, I was supposed to do things in whatever way she wanted, rather than putting my needs and my about-to-be-born child's needs and my husband and other children's needs first. Total lack of perspective about where her importance fell in comparison to the other key people in my life at that moment in time. Narcissist Alert!

  4. I had a moment of remembering the good stuff, then hung the ornament in a place that's not extremely prominent, but not hidden, either.

  5. That's amazing! That you've come to a place where you can think and feel and do the above is wonderful. Good for you!

  6. Claire - I see what you mean about feeling like you belonged in your FOO. I think that was probably how DH felt as well, thus the sadness he felt in the beginning of all of this. Essentially, it sounds like you were brainwashed. And, one of the things that I had not realized prior to meeting DH (and discovering all of these blogs) is that one can move from "golden child" to "blacksheep" and rather quickly too! And of course, that usually occurs when the child starts to fight the dysfunction and pull away. In normal families, pulling away from the FOO is acceptable and desirable. As we know, in dysfunctional families, it is not. (You know, that goes right along with EFIL's comment about how "Christmas is about family!" What he meant, of course, was that Christmas was about HIS family, and DH's old one, rather than DH's family with us (me and his children).

    Missing the delusion...missing the idea. Yep, sounds about right. That's all you ever really had, the "perfect idea" of having a family. And now, of course, comes the pain when you realize you can't have it (that you never had it then either).

    My N mother-in-law had the same exact attitude about the birth of our children, as you have described coming from your NM. How sad (for them). But, we must move on, Claire! I still feel there is happiness in truth...much more happiness than there could have been if you stayed in that old familiar place.

    Love to you and yours this holiday season.