Carolyn Hax: Advice

Mother feels left out during the holidays

Dear Carolyn: My daughter and her husband have three families to see, her parents being divorced and remarried. I understand how stressful and demanding holidays are for her.

My problem is that it is always me and her stepdad on the “bottom of the barrel.” Her other two families have more members, making it fun to get together, and people their age and the ages of their little children. It is just me and my husband, much less festive. I get it.

But at the same time, we are left alone at holidays and it is always so depressing. We usually find some other people to share dinner with but it doesn’t relieve the lonely, left-out feeling. I have expressed this to my daughter in years past but she just gets upset and I feel like I’ve dumped a guilt trip on her. I hate holidays. Any suggestions?

L.

I’m sorry. This is common and hard.

But you know what they say — if you can’t beat ’em, blow everything up.

That is, assuming you’ve completely ruled out joining these bigger gatherings (via your daughter). I hope you haven’t; radical inclusion can work, even when relations tend to the chilly. All you need to get started is a group decision to make it work. If your ex-husband for whatever reason stands in the way of your gathering with your daughter’s side of the family, then maybe you can create a niche for yourselves, over the course of a few years, with your son-in-law’s crew. Certainly you and your daughter don’t lack for incentive to try something new.

When that’s impossible or unpalatable, then, boom: Take your current idea of how a holiday is supposed to look, and obliterate it. Tell yourself firmly and finally that what you envision — sharing with your daughter and her brood — isn’t going to happen.

Then look at that fresh blank page and see … what? Is it interesting travel, even a day trip? A hike to a gorgeous view? Community service? (Though not a one-time Thanksgiving stint at a homeless shelter, since these overwhelm shelter staffs annually.) Or can you see just treating yourselves — be it to a performance, since not all venues go dark on holidays, or a spa or a high-end restaurant meal or a streaming binge of a show or movies you love, with a menu to match.

Anything purposeful. Anything but a scraped-together consolation bird.

If you can’t see holidays as an appointment to feel good, then please note that right now they’re essentially an appointment to feel bad — and that nearly every element of this but your daughter’s circumstances is within your power to change.

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