Ask Amy: Christmas visit fills mother with dread

FresnoJuly 27, 2013 

Dear Amy: I am a wife (10 years) and mother of a school-age daughter.

A year ago we moved halfway across the country to start a new life and for my husband's career. This year we will finally go back "home" for Christmas to visit family.

My parents are divorced. Although it happened some time ago, the resentment between them is still pretty raw.

I have three other siblings (ages 17-24), and we all feel tugged back and forth and torn between parents. I only have 10 days during the holidays to make up for a year of not seeing everyone, but I am already starting to get anxious and worried that I will upset a parent.

They do not do a good job of making any of us feel flexible to spend time with whomever we please. Their faces say it all; sometimes their words say it, too.

I just want to have a nice vacation, especially for my daughter's sake, but I still feel like a kid in a divorced home. How do I let go of those feelings and just be OK with visiting who I want, when I want, without fear of disappointing everyone?

— Already Scrooge

Dear Scrooge: First, wipe from your mind any notion that this will be a "vacation" for any of you. Taking a child across the country to visit divorced parents over the holidays is the very definition of "work."

Your stress will be diminished if you choose the most neutral, comfortable "home base" where you will all stay. Spending at least part of the time in a hotel might give your family a breather from the family dynamic.

After that, it's all about mental preparation and boundary setting. Be firm, friendly and determined to be oblivious to body language and guilt trips.

Practice responding to your parents with a version of this: "I know this is hard on you, but we're doing our very best to spend time with everyone. A great Christmas gift for all of us would be to have a peaceful, guilt-free visit. Can you help us achieve that?"

This will be challenging, but the traditions (and boundaries) you start to establish this year will give all of you ideas to build (and improve) upon in years to come.


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