As a mom of three, I used to make all the obligatory stops, dutifully visiting my in-laws, my parents, and my siblings. Instead of enjoying the holidays, I dreaded them. Instead of being happy, I was in a bad mood. I was exhausted. I had no desire to see the family I never spoke to at other times of the year. This experience didn’t just affect me; it affected my kids too.
For years I’d pack all of my kids up in the car (honestly, with very little help from my now ex-husband) and make sure we had everything we needed to make our rounds. It’s a lot to get three little kids out of the house when it’s freezing cold. The kids were tired from being dragged from house to house and wanted to be at home.
Then there were the holidays I hosted and everyone came to my house. It wasn’t because I wanted to spend time with certain family members over the holidays. It was my turn to have everyone at my house even though the only thing I wanted to do was spend a quiet, relaxing holiday with my kids and husband.
I have a strained relationship with both of my parents which makes it difficult for us to all be together. Even now, when I see commercials with kids hugging their grandparents as they’re greeted at the door with their arms full of gifts, my heart still sinks. I wish my parents and I had a different relationship with my kids than we do. But we don’t, and I finally realized that dragging myself and my kids all over town wasn’t going to change that fact.
I know there are lots of messages telling us holidays are for family and forgiveness and spending time together. But you can forgive someone and not fully reconnect with them. And really why do they get to make memories with you on these very special days when they don’t bother to show up on any other? In case you need somebody to say it, I will: You don’t have to spend your holidays with people you don’t want to.
I’ve finally made peace with the fact that the only thing I want to do on Thanksgiving and Christmas is spend time with my kids. I did what I was “supposed to do” during the holidays for so many years. But finally, I announced to my family that we’d be staying home and guests were not welcome. There are plenty of other days to get together and share a feast and exchange gifts. And for us, Christmas and Thanksgiving aren’t going to be days where we travel or host or I stress myself out.
The holidays are supposed to bring joy. If being around certain family members isn’t good for you, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take a year (or every year) off and spend them how you want to.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.