The Holiday Paradox

It all boils down to the holidays, doesn’t it? The entire year seems to culminate around the holidays, as if this time of year is a test of what you’ve done since last year.

The words, songs, feelings, and traditions that surround us during these times put forth expectations of what we all should be doing and even how we should feel. And it’s the fairy tale, story-book versions of these holiday gatherings that ruin it for the rest of us.

So here’s a hypothetical situation (but probably applies to some families). The picture is of a large family, several young children, maybe even one on the way. The adults have been successful in their lives and are settling down as their children are growing their own family. They are kind to one another, share collective laughs over silly uncle Larry who can’t ever tell between the twins, and reminisce about something funny that someone did when they were a kid.  They sit comfortably and reflect on their lives and life choices. There may be some regret buried in there, some guilt and maybe even a bit of shame, but all in all, this family gathering for the holidays is something to be longed for.

Here’s a different family. As in many, this family’s holiday involves a great deal of traveling and preparation, both mental and physical, and everyone gears up for getting together with brothers, sisters, and cousins that haven’t been mentioned in ages. There are old tensions that arise during these gatherings, petty fights over how to cook the turkey and maybe one or two blow up fights about some long-standing issue between family members. A few compare each other’s life successes to the other. Everyone quiets down for dinner, and the matriarch of the family asks everyone to say something they’re thankful for and, perhaps, take a moment to remember those who couldn’t be there.

As with that family, every family has issues at the holidays. History and stories and movies all tell us that our holiday gatherings are supposed to be like the first family. But it’s just not realistic for the vast majority.

Let’s delve into another situation. Troubles with the family started long ago, so the mother and daughter left the family to get away from its toxicity. The daughter nearly had to drag the mother out because she was being weighed down so heavily from all of her baggage. The daughter’s baggage was heavy as well, but she had learned how to function with it.

So the mother and daughter get ready for Thanksgiving, cooking dinner from instant mashed potatoes, steamed corn, and a pre-cooked turkey. Can’t forgot the canned cranberry sauce. They sit and eat in silence, both quietly thinking about how they’re grateful to not have to deal with a toxic family, but they also hate that it leaves them with no one but themselves.

But at least they have each other.

Except, when the only other person, the only other family in the room is a near constant trigger of all that toxicity that they tried to escape, the daughter wonders if she has done the right thing. It’s exhausting for her to simply be around her mother, even though she loves her. She tries to convince herself that this is better for her, which it is, but she senses that her mother partially blames her for the isolation they are experiencing today, and that no matter how hard it was to get out of that toxic family, her mother would prefer that over no family at all.

So is it better to be healthier and alone or unhealthy but surrounded by family? I think many of us, if not most of us, would prefer the first family, but let’s be realistic, right? Would I prefer to be part of the second family, with seemingly tangible tensions, but yet still surrounded by loved ones? I do not know.

Regardless, the holidays are tough. Let the month of triggers commence. Happy Holidays, everyone… I hope we can all find some sense of peace this season, even just for a moment, amidst all the chaos.

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2 thoughts on “The Holiday Paradox

  1. The second family doesn’t sound that bad to me. But better alone(ish) and healthy than in a toxic family, IMO. But holidays with difficult family situations are so tough, for me also.

  2. Is it better to be healthier and alone or unhealthy and surrounded by family? Well, what about being alone while surrounded by family? Thanksgiving used to be an event in my family where cousins and aunts and lots of people came together. It was hustling and bustling and while there were tons of people, family, around, I always felt completely alone.

    I applaud the mother and daughter for breaking out on their own, and would imagine that they are both dealing with a lot of sadness and grief over the past life experiences, and I can imagine it would also be quite hard to be together around the holiday time right now. There’s probably a little bit of comfort in knowing that the mother is struggling just as much as the daughter, so while they’re together in their struggles, they’re still alone on their journey. I hope they can be patient with themsleves and each other through this process…..

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