Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My 32-year-old single son announced last night that he won’t be joining the family for Thanksgiving dinner. He feels our gatherings are forced and if he came he would be bad company.
Our small family has its quirks like most. We are all local, and I reminded him that it’s only two hours to offer. He has usually been the more demonstrative of my sons so this disappoints me. I suggested that someday he'll recognize the importance of family.
I think he already does, but is dealing with his own disappointments in “loves lost,” masking it with declarations of emotional independence. I’m prepared to not make a big deal of this and let him realize (or not) on his own. Any thoughts?
My first thought is to wish you’d approached this in terms of what your son is feeling about himself instead of what he’s taking away from you. Doesn’t tending to his needs also count as “recognizing the importance of family”? Holy guilt trip, Mom.
And tell me you didn’t just call him a turkey.
It’s just two hours, yes — so not making a big deal of it is a no-brainer. But your son’s unhappiness might be a huge deal, depending on how deep it runs and how well-equipped he is to address it.
I suggest you find it in you to recognize that you reacted badly, then apologize to him for that. Say you let your disappointment crowd out what should have been concern for his present mood. Ask what you can do.
And some pre-emptive advice, just in case: If you’re making a big deal out of the “single” part (“My 32-year-old single son”), then stop doing that, too, since that alone can make two hours seem like an eternity. Treat him as whole. Listen to him. Follow his lead.
Re: Thanksgiving: I’m a 32-year-old single daughter who likes and loves my family. I haven’t missed a Thanksgiving, but I do usually get a twinge of … sadness, I guess, at not having someone to bring home with me (or go home with). Not something I spend a lot of time dwelling on usually, but I can easily see how, if I were coming off of recent “loves lost” or otherwise feeling lonely, I might take a pass for the year.
Please give your (adult!) son some room to do that. Plus, you’re local and it sounds like you’re having dinner regularly, so you and your son can still get plenty of family time on a less loaded day. Also, and at the risk of piling on, please don’t write off his declarations of emotional independence as a “mask.” That’s what coming to terms with yourself as a single adult can look and sound like. It’s OK.
Well-argued, thank you.
Re: Thanksgiving: Please realize that when you ask a loved one to just suck it up and show up (even if you use more tactful words), you’re saying that you don’t care whether this person you love enjoys the holiday or not. You’re saying that an outward show of family harmony is more important.
It doesn’t take many years of that for holidays to be something the person dreads.
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