Most years since I've started this blog, I've written something about the holidays (e.g., a primer on Holiday Depression, a discussion about feeling alienated during holidays, some thoughts about "letting go" for the holidays, and my favorite, a guide to having your lesbian daughter home for the holidays). You might think that all my reflection about the topic would mean that I have the holidays totally figured out. Nailed. Dialed. Nope.
When I was a kid, I loved the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. As an adult, notsomuch. I don't like cold weather, for one (and the older I get, the less I like it, which leads me to think I'm getting wimpier with age). But more importantly, I sometimes feel like I haven't gotten any better at dealing with the stuff that bothers me. I feel anxious about not meeting people's expectations of what my life should look like (or more accurately, not meeting the "expectations" I assume others have, and which they may or may not actually hold).
Specifically, this year I feel anxious about my decision to spend Christmas with my Dear Partner (DP) on an actual vacation for the two of us (our first in years). My parents are spending Christmas in a new tradition they started 6-7 years ago, with my brother and sister-in-law and their kids and my sister-in-law's family (her parents, grandma, sister, sister's husband, sometimes sister's husband's father, and occasionally a friend or two of theirs). It's a great tradition for my niece and nephew, who get to spend every Christmas with both sets of grandparents (something I would have loved as a kid). But it's not always ideal for my DP and I. We've joined about half the time. I feel guilty when I don't go, but a bit out of place when I do. This year it would mean a 10-hour drive, plus my DP lost her father less than two months ago and very much needs some "thinking space." So it seems a good decision for us to hang back this year. But I still feel guilty.
I think one of the reasons it can be so hard to let go of guilt is that it preys on our worst fears. Our fears that we're not a good enough daughter or son. That we won't be accepted for who we are. That people might hold grudges against us. That people might not really love us, or--worse--that they might think we don't really love them. That people think that we're selfish. That we are selfish. That people think we're weird or inferior. That we really are weird or inferior. What if this is all true?? Oh no! [Panic ensues.]
The past few days, I've been pondering a few different ideas, and they've helped me think about all this. From reader messages I receive, I know many of you have holiday angst, so maybe they'll help you, too.
First, I've been thinking about the importance of confidence and self-knowledge in battling guilt. I know myself, just as you know yourself. I know I'm a loving daughter who is incredibly devoted to my parents. I know that I am an understanding, loving, and devoted partner, too. I know that I make mistakes, but that I try my best to be good to the people I love. If I am confident in this knowledge, guilt begins to dissipate. I can't do everything that everyone would like me to do. No one can. There aren't right or wrong answers about things like this. There's just trying or not trying. If you're honestly trying, be confident in who you are and about what's in your heart.
Second, I've been thinking about the importance of making time for the people I love, whether or not it occurs over the holidays. Heck, maybe especially if it doesn't occur over the holidays. True, I'm not going to see my brother and his family over Christmas, but I am buying tickets to fly there for a weekend in January, even if my DP and I have to take off work, because my relationship with him, my sister-in-law, and my niece and nephew are very important to me. And I'm going to spend three or four days over New Year's with my parents, because they are super important to me as well. While I am visiting, I resolve to be present, which is not always something I've been great at in the past. I'm not going to do work, nor even bring work with me. (This may not sound radical, but for a historic workaholic like yours truly, it kind of is!)
Third, I've been thinking about taking the long view: resisting the temptation to endow one day or one conversation with huge amounts of meaning. Think about your relationships with other people as lifelong journeys. This will make it easier to avoid getting wrapped up in that argument you had with your aunt over who's bringing the turkey, or about whether you're bringing the kids over for her annual Hanukkah party this year. It's easier to be zen about your loved ones when you remember the history you have with them, and when you consciously put this or that one holiday into that larger context of your journey with them.
Sending you mucho love, dear readers. What's on your mind as December unwinds? Do you ever experience holiday angst? What does it look like, and what do you do about it? What are you still trying to work through?