quote “ In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit.” .. Marge Kennedy
When you live in a fractured extended family like Michael and I do, you walk a narrow rope bridge between harmony and discord and Christmas can be a particularly difficult time in families like ours.
Although it is many years since we both divorced from the other parent of our children, I think we all came to the realisation that whether we liked it or not , we are all still stuck with each other, for life!! over the years all parties, to their credit have found a way to be civil, even amicable to each other and what potentially could have been a cauldron of steaming resentments and jealousy, seems to me to be very harmonious pool of supportive people.
Of course it was not always like this, .Divorce is never without it’s acrimony and new relationships present a threat There have been times when insecurity has driven certain unpleasant behaviours amongst the members, in an effort for those people to be able to reassure themselves of love. But eventually they got over it.
As the new wife and stepmother and Michael as the new husband and stepfather we jokingly agreed at the beginning that in order of priority we both came sixth on the list … “One F”.
This strategy seemed to work because the children never seemed to make too many unreasonable demands. Although I did grit my teeth and smile a time or two when Michaels teenage adventurous daughter rang AGAIN during a romantic meal and he disappeared to rescue her from some remote place.
After 12years together, Michael and I married in 2000, and it was important to us that both my ex husband and his wife and Michaels ex wife and her husband felt comfortable enough to attend and I was delighted when they all accepted the invitations.
With marriages of our children and grandchildren (another potential minefield for jealously and competition ) came new members and family parties, at which we all mixed and had fun together. Grandchildren seem to accept and love us all unconditionally. we all got very fond of each other and “bonded”(as far as I was concerned) we were just all “family”.
In the early years I mostly worked on Christmas Day, Michael spent the day with my mum till I got home, but after she died and I took a day job we were mostly alone on Christmas day.
On Christmas day, Michaels children always went to their mums , my daughter Sunshine would rotate around father, MIL and us each year and my son bloggerman stayed home in Birmingham, usually playing host to his in laws from the other end of the country.
As the years went past I vaguely thought that it may occur to the others that we might like to see the children or have a meal with them on Christmas day, but we had Boxing day.
Boxing day, December 26th, was “our” day when everyone was invited for brunch.. I went to great lengths on the catering making a buffet Jamie would have been proud of.
Exes and spouses were invited too and visiting in laws, grandparents, whatever and occasionally came.
It was hard work but I loved it.
Then three years ago, everything changed. ex wife’s husband died suddenly in December, ex wife and all family all sad.
Michaels son invited everybody (all 26!) to his large house for boxing day. …..I was puzzled that he didn’t ask me if it was Ok. …..so I just assumed they had transferred our party to his house because it was bigger…. of course as everyone was upset and grieving it seemed inappropriate to ask
But then DIL refused all offers, even financial, of help or contribution. I suspected she was being kind but it made me feel left out.
The following year no invitation was forthcoming and I was confused. Were we all having the big family party at the biggest house in future or not? ……and frankly I felt a bit hurt that our “important ” boxing day party did not seem to be important to anybody else.
Last year when I had a pre Christmas moan “I”m fed up of eating on our own on Christmas Day , you don’t even eat turkey” , and “ nobody is bothering about boxing day” ….. Michael promptly booked a trip to Paris so the subject didn’t arise.
This year in churlish resentment (and the middle of moving house) I really didn’t have any heart to invite anybody…..but his children turned up on boxing day anyway!!!! LOL! ….. with lovely presents and good cheer. Not expecting any grand buffet at all, to a house full of boxes and devoid of most furniture.
We all sat on garden chairs, drank tea and had a laugh and it was a lovely afternoon. the last in this my family house. they just came to see US.
Then I found out that the year Jim died, Michael and his son had discussed the plan to invite everyone to their house on boxing day and NOW I understood it was a knee jerk reaction at a time of family grief, as the eldest son he wanted to gather everyone around him in an instinctive protective way. Michael said “go ahead” Denise wont bother” !!! …..typical men it never occurred to them to discuss it with the women! ….and typical woman, me, just didn’t ask, just bottled the hurt and got resentful, confused that I was being unreasonable.
So, the moral is,… stupid me carried this unnecessary confusion and resentment for three years, instead of discussing it…….. . I could’ve saved myself all the hassle of preparing a grand brunch buffet over the years, which was not the important bit, because all they wanted to do and what was really important to them was to see us sometime over Christmas!
The other thing I have realised is just how important these rituals become as we get older, maybe more to women, to cement a family and reassure ourselves of our love and support for each other. So to their mums, dads, in laws and my daughter Sunshine, the rituals they have at Christmas, however selfish and unreasonable, are important too and they probably don’t understand why.
Next year I WILL make a buffet in my new home and have no problem with them going to the other parent on Christmas day because now I realise how important that ritual is to THEM
…and I forgot about One F!
and a year ago I was talking about our Paris trip.