For my entire adult life, holidays have gone like this
I’d have to start preparing myself to see my mother, obsessing on it for about a week before, but coping okay until the actual day-of. The day of the holiday or birthday, I’d wake up grumpy and depressed, snapping at my husband and daughter. Our daughter would retreat to her room, with the door closed.
“What’s wrong?” my husband would ask, a hundred times.
“I don’t know,” I’d say. “Well, yes, I do know. … It’s my mother.”
“Oh yeah,” he’d say. Not in a dismissive way, but with genuine sympathy, because he knows how she is and how it affects me. But there would be nothing he could do for me to make me feel better. And I would know I was being an insufferable asshole to everyone around me, but unable to make it stop without drinking. Heavily. Just to get through an afternoon with her.
I came to hate holidays and birthdays. Hate them. I have no idea how that affected my daughter’s perception of holidays. It’d probably make me too sad to know the truth.
Make your decision and stick with it
Last Christmas was the last straw for me. My mother created a big fuss before Christmas, announcing she wasn’t coming because everyone hated her so much. As usual, I felt guilty and genuinely wanted her to be there. Not because I wanted her to be there, but because I had so much fear of her disappointment in being left out. My mother loves Christmas. Loves it. She loves getting presents, and she loves wrapping her gifts in exotic paper and decked out in artificial flowers, and fussy ribbons you can’t undo, and maybe some feathers or charms, and finally, topped off with frilly bows she makes herself. When you receive a gift from my mother, you’re not to tear it open, upon threat of her wrath. You are to sit and admire it, and ooh and ahh for an acceptable amount of time, before carefully undressing her gift and promising to save the wrappings. Yes, even the children are expected to go through this exercise. It’s exhausting. No one likes this except her, and it makes everyone uncomfortable.
It’s not just the gifts, though. If it were just the gifts, that would be okay. We all have our weird idiosyncrasies. No, there are often a multitude of emotional obstacles to navigate during holidays with my mother. And you never know how the day will go, whether it be relatively uneventful or end in a a full-blown meltdown.
But I insisted she come to the family Christmas last year, and she did. She behaved Christmas Day, much to my relief. The following day she called me and was verbally abusive over the phone. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say we had words, words about a lot of things, and that was when I realized I’d simply had enough.
Enjoy your holiday & don’t feel guilty
This Christmas will be the one-year anniversary of not speaking to my mother. As I said, this was my first Thanksgiving without her. And it was wonderful. I woke up happy, looking forward to the day. I joked with my husband and daughter and didn’t bite their heads off. I enjoyed making the gravy and the stuffing. I had two beers the whole afternoon. Normally, I’d have four or five glasses of wine, because it was my duty to make sure there was wine available for Mother. So I’d buy a box to make sure there was plenty for everyone who needed it.
This Thanksgiving I was relaxed and had fun. The feeling was intoxicating. No sitting on pins and needles waiting for her to say something rude to someone or make a scene. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel the weight of guilt or terror smashing down on me. Not one little bit. I felt like a bird freed from a cage.
So … you should really consider cutting that toxic family member out of your events. I was lucky in that I didn’t have anyone pressuring me into making sure she’s included, so admittedly, that made things easier.
But if there’s someone really making holidays unhappy for everyone else in attendance you owe it to yourself, and your mental health, to give that person the boot. You know who they are: the addicts who perpetually show up high or drunk, the drama queens, the creepy uncle who sexually harasses people, the rageaholics who insist on starting arguments … the people who, year after year after year have to make the holiday all about them, ruining it for everyone else. Trust me, you’ll all be better off if you tell that person to stay away, especially the kids.
And if the problem attendee can get his or her shit together, maybe they can earn an invitation. In the meantime, let them know their behavior isn’t acceptable and won’t be tolerated. It’s totally worth it.