I love my daughter very much and thought we were close. Some years ago we gave her financial help, bought her family a car and helped towards the cost of double glazing.
Christmas has always been important to me. When my mother was still alive, my daughter and her husband and children used to come to us and go home after Boxing Day lunch. Since my mother’s death, we have gone to them. My son in-law’s parents don’t celebrate Christmas – if they did, I would have expected us to see our daughter and family one Christmas, her parents the next.
This year my daughter is not inviting us for Christmas as she wants a “family-only occasion”. I have taken this very badly as an indication that she does not now consider us family; or perhaps wants to distance herself from parents in their late 70s, who may in future require help – my husband is waiting to go to a clinic as, at 77, he is suffering from memory loss. It may be just old age, but it could be dementia and she knows this. We also have a son, who is now separated from his wife – we used to see them for an annual pre-Christmas celebration.
My daughter says she is very busy with her four children, which I accept. Am I making too much of this?
VC, via email
The short answer is yes, you are. I appreciate that Christmas means all sorts of things to different people and you have your idea of how you’d like it to be but you seem to have placed a great deal of emphasis on how your daughter should spend Christmas.
If I read your letter correctly, your daughter has spent every Christmas with you up until now. This year she wants it to be just her husband and children. That’s totally understandable and it doesn’t mean this is how it will be every year, or that she doesn’t want to have anything more to do with you.
If it’s been a stressful year (with your husband – her dad – being unwell) your daughter may want to simply regroup a bit so that she can better support you next year. She may also be starting to realise that you won’t be round for ever and conversely want to invest more in the family she has created, instead of the one she was born into.
What about your son? In your longer letter you told me things about the way he’s been treated by your husband that makes me want to say: don’t forget about him. He’s your child too.
Lovely as it is to have a big family Christmas, it’s not always possible. What you don’t want to be is the parent (or parent-in-law) who is invited out of guilt. Invest in your own Christmas with your husband – maybe invite friends, maybe your son, or your daughter-in-law. Show your daughter that you can have a perfectly good Christmas without her. Not in an “I’ll show you” way but so that she feels that she can have a good time without worrying about you. How your family has celebrated the festive season in the past – it’s all interesting, but has nothing to do with your daughter or, indeed, this or future Christmases.
That you have helped your daughter out financially in the past is laudable, but has no bearing on how – or with whom – she spends Christmas. If you choose to help out family members with money that is generous and lovely of you, but don’t do it to get anything back. That way disappointment lies.
The fact that your daughter is able to tell you that she would like to have this Christmas with her four children and husband is to be applauded and not lamented.
I realise that this Christmas (the first?) without her and her family will seem hard: it’s a milestone.
Think about all the other things you can do this Christmas that would make you happy. And why not plan a lovely big family get-together in January or February when there is nothing else to look forward to?
First published in The Guardian Family section.