Friday, December 27, 2013

friday five: not so festive edition

At RevGals this morning the Friday Five asks about the family traditions of Christmas, particularly as they pertain to the necessary adjustments when families begin to take new shape through losses and additions. Except for one, I find that I can't really answer the questions posed because they simply don't pertain to my/our new reality. That doesn't mean that the "five" hasn't spurred a whole lot of reflection. If anything, it has spurred perhaps a bit more than I would like to consider.

The gist of it is this. Our general experience--that of my husband and me--is that Christmas tends to happen without us. It is problematic that we don't live near any of our family, but that seems to underscore an emotional reality. When we are able to enjoy holiday time with our daughter or son and their respective families we are accommodated. We have never been invited to join either for Christmas Day. Some  years we have managed celebrations before or after, but the heart of the day has never included us. 

This isn't uncommon for divorced fathers, even when geography isn't an issue. When I was growing up my parents divorced when I was 13, and with rare exceptions Christmas Day was celebrated in the home of my mother. Even when Mom remarried and moved to another state, my brothers and I trekked to her abode,  relegating my father to second-class status. This happened for all kinds of practical and noble reasons, but it was perpetuated because my brothers and I made the convenient, self-justified choice of keeping my father second. Through those years my father enjoyed being part of the lives of the families of the women with whom he shared his heart, and I like to believe that those bonds offered balm for his battered family soul. The truth includes the reality that we never put him first.

I  have no children to bring to the present equation. My husband's family is now mine, so I am experiencing his place in the equation as my own. As he laments being "the hind tit" in the life of his children (his words) I feel a double dose of pain--his, as well as mine. Add to that my own, later-in-life perspective and new empathy for my father's experience, and regret taints the mix. What was once my favorite holiday has become a source of deep pain and longing for inclusion. We have few friends who might embrace us, taking the edge off the isolation we feel, and so we muddle through. 

I wage a debate within myself about speaking up, of being honest about feelings. The one time my father shared his feelings with us was on the occasion of my mother's remarriage.  Still carrying a torch for my mother he lambasted us for not considering how the day affected him and showing some sympathy for him. I seem to recall that my brothers were dismissive of his tirade, and frankly I don't remember how I responded to him. During a recent conversation with my daughter-in-law about managing the "family juggle" I mentioned that they hadn't been to see us since they were married three and half years ago. She acknowledged that truth with silence, a far better response than excuses or empty promises about different patterns in the future.

Somewhere in the mix we hold a share of responsibility in how this plays out--family dynamics are a reflection of all the players in the pool. I suspect we all lack the courage to face and address whatever hurts lie beneath, or attempt to clear the clouded air that perceptions, accurate or otherwise,  have created. Somehow or other we haven't learned how to love adequately, either, so that respecting the dignity of each others feelings can be something that is honored and cherished, rather than held hostage (which is sometimes how it feels). 

I don't have answers, but I do know that honesty and effort need to be part of whatever will help move us through our present experience of feeling marginalized.  Most importantly, love will need to lead the way. For that, I pray.


Carolina Linthead said...

Prayers are offered for you and your family, Anne. I see the dynamics play out in other families around me...a co-worker who spent her first Christmas in 12 years with her mother, for example; a cousin who spent Christmas with her father this year, while her mother spent the day with a sister, hundreds of miles away. I see the lack of understanding, as well, or the refusal to see. I've battled chronic depression for 25 years, and yet my family wonders where that poem came from this year? Ah, but I've got it made...I don't have to deal with X and Y, and they refuse to acknowledge that Z is the same. It is a difficult time of year, one I dearly love and yet one I dread. I feel your pain, beloved sister-friend. ((hugs))

Jan said...

Prayers and love. As I start feeling like the OLD generation, not to be noticed, in my family, I have a glimpse of how your husband feels with his children. Sounds lonely for both of you.

Muthah+ said...

"I suspect we all lack the courage to face and address whatever hurts lie beneath, or attempt to clear the clouded air that perceptions, accurate or otherwise, have created."

If there is anything that gives me grief over the past years it is being unwilling or unable to address the 'hurts that lie beneath.'

Christmas for me never provides all that I hope for especially when it comes to my family. But there is something that does happen at Christmas--it always carries a hope that keeps me trying to make better happen. I guess that is what the Incarnation holds for us--hope weighed with reality.

Jayne said...

Geography does make it difficult, and many times I think, kids don't realize just how much those efforts can mean. I applaud your being able to see this through your own father's eyes and that you are able to put words to the pain you and Ken feel not being a part of the holiday gatherings. We all get set into patterns that are difficult to break out of sometimes, as patterns become "traditions" and then we can't imagine changing anything. Love to you and Ken as you feel the sadness of this, and hopes for new traditions to be born. XO

Mary Beth said...

Oh, sweetie. Just now reading this. So sorry for the hardness of this. My little sister and I have had bad feelings over the years and it turned out to be "you never come to see me!" "well, you never invite me!" "Well, why should I have to invite you, you can come any time you like!"

Etc., etc. Things are healing.

Blended families are hard. I know it.


The Bug said...

How hard for you guys! I keep thinking that Mike & I should start a Christmas tradition just our own - and leave the stress of family out of it. But that doesn't feel right either.

Much love to the two of you!


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