Ask Amy

Ask Amy: Joy is a shape shifter during the holiday season

DEAR AMY: With weeks to go, the holiday fallout has already begun in my family.

By 8:30 this morning my sister was on the phone criticizing our weak family, wanting to ignore getting together. But she agreed to host the holiday meal because it is her favorite holiday – as long as no one brings any casseroles to her house and she doesn’t have to deal with an aunt and cousin who recently lost a daughter and sister to breast cancer.

My sister is having some depression issues and crying spells.

Is there any way to prevent more anger and hurt feelings this holiday season?

S

DEAR S: Is ruefully laughing (to yourself) an option? Because reading this rant about the holiday season, with the details about the depression and crying jags, as well as the prohibition against casseroles – all of this makes for a classic red letter holiday.

Because of what is going on in her life, your sister may need to try to control every aspect of this get-together, but remember – you don’t need to. You are not required to control anyone or anything. You may not be able to mediate this gathering so that everyone is happy, but you should do your best to be light, kind, calm and generous, especially toward your family members who are grieving from a tragic loss.

If you are able to pull this off, you might actually locate a shred of seasonal joy. This joyful feeling is a notorious shape shifter; sometimes it accompanies seasonal music; sometimes it even takes the shape of a cheesy casserole. But the joy is out there, waiting to be retrieved and brought into the house. Maybe that can be your gift to the family this year. Bring in the joy.

DEAR AMY: My husband and I do not have children. We have 15 nieces and nephews and six great-nieces and great-nephews. They range in age from 6 months to 35 years old. In the past we gave gifts to all of them for their birthdays and Christmas. Some of our siblings will give us a small Christmas gift from the kids, most of them don’t even acknowledge the gifts.

This past year I lost my job, and money has been tight. We want to have a cutoff age, but are unsure how or when to do it. Is it OK to give to one sibling and not another? Is there a certain age?

How do you explain it to family members without causing World War III?

Help! The holidays are approaching quickly and we don’t want it to be awkward.

Unsure Aunt

DEAR UNSURE: Generally I think it’s a good idea to stop giving to children once they’re out of high school, but this is dependent on your relationships, as well as how you feel about the overall experience. You should not feel like you have to kill yourself to give gifts at Christmastime. Nor should you worry that whatever choice you make might cause a war. If you assume your family members will behave well, they might surprise you. This is the year to ratchet your giving way down, and/or change directions.

If you can afford it, you and your husband might purchase one gift through Heifer International (heifer.org) to share with the entire clan. Browsing through this year’s gift catalog, I see that you can buy a flock of chickens for $20. The organization donates the chickens you have purchased to a hungry family in a faraway place – and you have the pleasure of telling your family that this has been done in their honor.

DEAR AMY: I don’t always agree with your responses, but I do want to acknowledge that I think you are always on the money when it comes to understanding the complications of being a stepparent. “New Stepmom” was trying to figure out how to negotiate her role with her stepchildren’s uncooperative mother. Your response was wise and compassionate and – just right.

Also a Stepmom

DEAR ALSO: This is a case of “Been There, Done That.” I am a very proud stepmother – and I got here the hard way, by making mistakes and learning along the way.

Write Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribpub.com.

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