Forgetting, Remembering, & The Holidays

Your family isn't going anywhere, may as well enjoy it


by Martha

Parents often tell their children that life isn’t fair. They tell little Tommy and Susie that life is tough, and sometimes recommend getting a helmet. They try to instill good values in their children. They teach Tommy to put others first and tell Susie she shouldn’t let her emotions control her behavior (and they never warn Tommy of this, men are never ruled by emotions). They express the importance of family and friendship. They empower Tommy and Susie to be independent, self-sufficient adults who are capable of taking on the world. They want what is best for their children and encourage them to marry (and when, at the age of thirty, Susie is still single, they express worry and alarm). But ultimately, at the end of the day, parents just want their children to be happy—even if they can’t define happiness themselves.

The funny thing about parents, though, is the shortness of their memories. Once The Holidays come around, your parents will forget everything they did to teach you independence and happiness. They forget all the values they instilled in you. They become ruled by their emotions. They become selfish and co-dependent. They believe time can be completely cut in half, that every gathering can be sliced down the middle like a delicious Thanksgiving Day turkey and everything will be fair.

They forget that when a wishbone is snapped someone always gets the bigger half.

And they want the bigger half.

They forget that they actually like your in-laws. They forget that you actually like them too. They try to act as though they aren’t selfish. They just want you to be happy. “Do what you want,” they say, all while sniffling in the background. They forget there are more members in each family than parents. They forget you have siblings, whom they gave you, who are also grown with families of their own. They forget each of you has extended family time to squeeze in, that you might want to see old friends, or that you might want to relax. They forget The Holidays are supposed to be fun.

And maybe you forgot that Mom misses you terribly. That when you moved nine hundred miles from home you left her with two squabbling teenage boys who certainly won’t go shopping with her. You forget that just when the two of you were reaching the point of mother-daughter friendship, you wrenched that friendship from her grasp and moved halfway across the country. You forget that moment during freshman year of college when you came home for the first time and your mom looked at you in the front seat and told you she missed you because “you’re the only one who can talk as fast as me and still keep up” (writing about this memory makes me tear-up). You forget that your dad lost his only drinking buddy (who’d only legally existed for one year) when you moved far, far away. You forget your brothers haven’t yet grown out of the “hating Dad” phase and that he could use a reminder that it’ll pass. You forgot that when you moved west of the Mississippi River you lost constant access to your favorite beer.

You forget that your mother-in-law had a rough year. You forget her mother is suffering from dementia, her loyal dog passed away, and her husband was diagnosed with cancer. I mean sure, you remember these things, but when it comes to The Holidays, you forget.

We all forget.

So this year I’m going to do my best to be conscious of all those little things. I will do my part to be present in every moment, to keep my own frustration in check, and to enjoy the limited time we have with our families. The Holidays are a special time (even when fights break out over where you’re going to open presents) and while I wish I could squeeze family time in to every single minute of every single day, sometimes that’s just not possible. Wedding planning taught me that sometimes the best-laid plans can go to shit. And when that happens it’s best to just buckle up and roll with it. So I’m going to take the same approach to The Holidays. I’m going to plan out our schedule, and if it doesn’t go as planned and Aunt Crazy throws a shit fit on Christmas Eve, well so be it. Because if there’s one thing five months of marriage has taught me, it’s that your family isn’t going anywhere.

Photo by Gabriel Harber

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  • Em


  • NicoleT

    Great post! It’s so, so true. I was just talking to my fiancé about all of this yesterday. And this holiday splitting gets even more difficult when your parents *don’t* like your fiancé’s parents…

  • Emma Klues

    I love this sentiment, thank you for a gentle but legitimate reminder.

  • Katie

    Both my family and my husband’s family live in the same metropolitan area (including the bulk of extended families), so it is very easy for everyone (and even ourselves) to expect us to be at ALL the events. Further complicating things are the fact that his parents are divorced and, though they have been divorced for many years, neither is willing to give up any time with their adult son that they view as their “right.” And somewhere in there we are hoping to carve out some time to just be together over the holidays, because how nice to not come home and kvetch about work while you clean up dog puke, throw some laundry in the wash, and start dinner to wolf down before you head off to the gym/run errands?! I know every couple that is newly engaged/married/committed faces this to some degree and that most find a balance, so I am holding on to hope!

  • AC

    This hits the nail on the head and is so, so hard. We decided to spend Thanksgiving with my fiance’s cousin for the second year in a row (he loves that it’s just the three of us having a relaxing day) so that we can spend a full week with my family at Christmas. My mom is heartbroken, though (her words), that I’m missing another Thanksgiving, the only holiday that she hosts at her home. We’re still trying to work out what will make everyone happy. After a lifetime of coming home for the holidays, it’s hard to adjust to a new reality of what “fairness” means.

  • Guest

    This is such a lovely reminder to think beyond ourselves and remember that holidays are more than just a joyous time…they can be hard too!

  • Clare Parker

    I have been struggling with this holiday time-splitting trauma my entire life. My parents divorced when I was seven, and even though they never really tried to put pressure on my brother and me, it was always really hard to split up the festivities. Figuring out where to spend your time, and how to get between houses, and what the grandparents on one side and the stepsiblings on the other side were doing … ugh. I always wanted to please everyone, and there were years when the whole thing just made me sob.

    My husband also has divorced parents, plus we live far away from any of them, plus my brother lives in yet another corner of the country. I have learned to just roll with it. You can’t please everyone, and sometimes you just can’t manage another cross-country flight. I haven’t had an at home Thanksgiving in, I think, six years, even though it is my favorite family holiday. This year still won’t be at home for me — it’s time for a trip to see the Oregon cohort. We’re honeymooning this Christmas. It’s kind of a big relief not to have to make any more decisions about where we’re spending the holidays because we’re spending them in Europe, with no family but the two of us.

  • Noelle Bakken

    Thank you for this lovely post. This hits altogether too close to home for me (including moving west of the Mississippi!).

    • Ah! I’m from Pennsylvania and I am jonesing for a Yuengling Lager.

  • jashshea

    This is amazing.Love.

  • Katherine A Linsenmeier

    This post reminds me, yet again, of how grateful I am for my own family. While I know parents would like to see their 3 children for every holiday, they are incredibly understanding of the costs if travel & the need to share.

    Also, I’d like to put the idea out there that it’s okay to not spend all the holidays with your spouse. This Thanksgiving, I’m going out of town with my parents to visit my 91 year old grandmother. My husband, who just started a new job, is staying home because he’s scheduled to work Wednesday night & Friday morning. Yes, I could have stayed home with him, but seeing my grandmother feels like the right decision. (I honestly only feel bad about it when I think about having to justify our decision to others. Because there’s this thing out there about nurturing your baby family.)

  • T@ America Behind Me

    This is beautiful. Thank you so much. I can relate so much to the part about moving away from your parents, it’s scary. And haunting. I don’t usually read blogs expecting to get teary. Thank you for a life-changing perspective.

  • KISig

    Hooray for interfaith marriages! It doesn’t solve Thanksgiving, but it really helps with everything else!

  • Episkey

    That was beautiful, Martha.

  • Sara Leeds

    It’s silly that our parents never will reach the stage of outgrowing us. We may be able to achieve that towards them, in a different way, but our parents certainly won’t. It can be frustrating when, in the middle of the celebratory mood of the holidays, crap breaks up because Mom just has a different way of showing she misses us and just want to keep us all to herself. But I certainly would want to take advantage of that while she’s still here.

  • ItsyBit

    I’m a bit late here, but this is perfect. Thanks for the reminder. (Also, Imogen Heap’s “Just for Now” does a good job of cramming the joy & frustration of The Holidays into a short song, imo.)

  • Lindsay Rae

    Thank you for writing this and making me cry!! So well written and expresses so many emotions perfectly. Happy Holidays to all, and good luck navigating all of your different families.