While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On “overbooked” holidays and other obstacles to family togetherness:
I am one of four, and our tradition was to gather to open gifts and celebrate on Christmas Eve. As we began to marry, we continued the tradition. With children/grandchildren added to the mix, it eventually became a physical burden for my parents to host a houseful, but we collectively ignored that fact and continued.
The one sibling who had no children gradually and ultimately bowed out, and the remaining sibs were very smug about this outrageous behavior. (How could he do this to our parents?) Never mind that he and wife always planned a specific time to host our parents in their home and exchange gifts, independently of the others.
My husband, two children and I “did” Christmas Eve with my parents, spent a short time with each other Christmas morning, then went to the in-laws’ for a big dinner.
It occurred to me, much too late in the game, that my husband and I never established traditions with our own children. At about the same time, I realized I was actually jealous of the brother who dared to go his own way those many years ago.
In our 60s and 70s now, we siblings rarely get together, and when we do, it seems forced. We’re not estranged, it’s just that we have little in common as adults. All the early “togetherness” did not generate close family ties.
Annual events — holidays, anniversaries, birthdays — need not be rubber-stamped year after year. Enjoy the enjoyable, be civil when required, and don’t fake “togetherness” to the point of resentment.
Wish I’d Done It Differently
On explaining death to children:
When my mother was very young, she was extremely concerned about dying and repeatedly asked her mother (my grandmother) about it.
Eventually, Grandmother turned to her and said, “Look, do you remember what it was like before you were born?” My mother said, “No.”
“Well,” said my grandmother, “That’s what it will be like when you die.”
I was in my late 50s when Mother told me this. It continues to be comforting.
On partners who refuse to budge on one thing or another and won’t say why:
Why are some people such gutless wonders that they won’t say things in plain English? Or, as we say to children, “Use your words.”
If someone used his words, it could lead to a productive (if possibly unpleasant) discussion. In my opinion, it is both selfish and cowardly for people to refrain from explaining themselves verbally when they are in a relationship with someone who clearly desires such communication.
The Verbal One
On providing real help to a family member:
My family visited my parents recently. My spouse and I are having serious difficulties and are working on that. My parents aren’t oblivious, but instead of volunteering unhelpful advice (”She’s such a shrew”; “He’s such a [jerk]”), my mom simply took me aside at the end of the visit and said, “We’re here for all of you. Whatever happens, you’re all good people and we will help as much as we can.”
I don’t know what the future holds, but that sort of quiet support (for both my spouse and me) is priceless.