Dear Barb—Christmas Without

Dear Barb:

As Christmas Day is approaching I can feel the tension rising within my family.  We rarely get along through the year, and as a result, Christmas get-togethers are not an enjoyable experience.  I have tried to find an excuse not to attend the family dinner, but since this is our first year without my dad, I want to be there for my mom. 

Dad passed away six months ago, and mom has been depressed ever since.  I tried to discuss with my siblings that we should try to get along for mom’s sake, but they looked at me like I’m crazy and denied there has ever been problems at Christmas.  Meanwhile, I can remember last Christmas my oldest brother walked out in the middle of dinner because of the bickering.  That was Dad’s last Christmas.  My mom is getting older and who knows this may be her last Christmas and I want it to be as pleasant as possible.  Can you suggest any way that I can defuse the family tension so we can all have a comfortable Christmas?

Looking forward to your response, April.

Hello April:

Thank you for taking the time to send this email.  Christmas is always a stressful time of year.  There is such a tremendous build-up to Christmas day and expectations are high.  Be realistic, your family dynamics are not going to change just because it is Christmas day.  If your siblings didn’t get along last week, they most likely won’t get along this week.  If the tensions are severe and you do not feel that your siblings will be able to put their conflict and anger aside for the day, then consider splitting up your guests.  Get together with some for Christmas Eve and others for Christmas day.  Invite your mother to both events, this way she will be able to see all her children in a more pleasant atmosphere.

That is one option, although I believe you would rather keep the family together, especially for this Christmas being the first one without your dad.  Perhaps you could start a new family tradition this year.  Possibly celebrate a Christmas brunch, instead of dinner.  A simple shift like this will create new dynamics within the family.  Also, you must appreciate that your family members may experience their grief in different ways, some may want to talk about memories of your dad but for others, remembering is too painful.  Eliminate all expectations and go with the flow.  It is admirable that you want to create a nice Christmas for your mother and that you appreciate the pain she is experiencing.  It will be a difficult Christmas no matter what you choose to do as a family, but you will get through it.

Best wishes to your family.