Our Family Tradition of Not Gathering for the Holidays

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https://fairfieldcounty.momcollective.com/favorite-holiday-traditions/The time has come for my annual holiday tradition of not gathering together with my extended family to minimize my feelings of stress and anxiety about family interactions surrounding Christmas.

Having grown up the child of divorced parents, holidays have always been complicated for me. At first, it was the logistical complications. How do we fit in dinners and presents with four sets of grandparents and both sets of parents on top of all of the events happening at my school?

When I got older, I would also want to spend time with friends, and one year when I dated a boy whose parents were also divorced, I found myself celebrating at 12 different Christmas events over three days. And while the logistics of driving around the state or even across state lines to manage to share the joy of the holidays with all of these different groups was crazy, I had no idea how much more complicated things would become as I became an adult.

Now my challenges are far more personal and far less logistical. Through years of therapy, I have figured out which relationships nurture me and which ones are the source of continual drama and psychological harm.

After years of soul searching, I found the strength to establish boundaries and prioritize spending time with my husband and kids rather than with my extended family. I, of course, got bludgeoned with guilt and accusations of not caring in response. Little did those family members realize that their reaction solidified my feelings that I am making the right choice for myself and my children.

As much as I have fond memories of lively but kind political debates during the holiday dinners of my youth, I know that in today’s world of hyper-partisanship and vitriol, minor disagreements can get rather nasty. While I want my kids to learn to talk with others with different opinions, I don’t need my children to see family members wrapped in that much anger and disrespect for others’ views.

And while I enjoy a nice glass of wine or a cocktail with dinner, I don’t need to worry about whether my family members will drink responsibly or if they will drink to excess and teach my children to do the same. Just as I don’t want politics to drive people to anger, I don’t need alcohol to lead to uncontrolled emotions and outbursts that will be remembered all too well by my young and sober children.

The thing is, I know how much work it has taken me to get to this place where I see the limitations and flaws in my family. I have worked hard to accept them for who they are and to see the good intentions behind their sometimes-hurtful actions. And while I couldn’t protect myself from these challenging times when I was younger, I am now, as an adult, fully able to protect my children from the same trauma.

So this year, like several recent years, I will be enjoying the quiet of spending time just the four of us for the coming holidays. We will go on adventures, make Christmas cookies, watch movies, cook a wonderful meal together, and build our own traditions that are hopefully lower in drama and mileage on the car than those holidays of my youth. We will take some time to call our family members who are celebrating elsewhere, and we will stop to remember those who are no longer with us.

And maybe when my kids are bigger, and they can be prepared for the possible scenarios that are likely to happen, we will try getting together with more of our extended family during the holidays. Or maybe by then, we will be so happy with our new traditions that we won’t. Time will tell, but until then, we will have a small celebration filled with love and hopefully low on Holiday drama.

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Erika is a professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies and mom to two kids (2010 and 2013) plus two cats (2005 and 2019). A Midwestern transplant who has lived in 32 places, she has happily called Fairfield her home for the past 12 years. At work, she directs a program to support first-generation and underrepresented student success in science. In town, she can often be found driving her kids back and forth to their respective sporting events and teams or sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi to get a little work done before pick up. Erika loves spending time enjoying the water, cooking, theater, reading, and hanging out with her husband.

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