Manhandling the Holidays

Okay men, it’s the holidays. How are you going to handle it?

Well, I guess that depends on the situation, or more to the point, your situation.





Do you have to travel to see your family or are they local?

How dysfunctional is your family, how much stress & anxiety is involved in that visit and how great of an actor do you have to be to pull off the ‘no mom & dad things are fine!’ routine you always do?

Notice I said “how dysfunctional is your family’ and not ‘Is your family dysfunctional’ because lets face it, all families have a bit of dysfunction in them.

I used to think my family was pretty normal growing up.

And then we actually grew up.

Oh my God…

Honestly, going back home to visit my family when my kids were little was more difficult than being with the in-laws over the holidays.

Sure there is stuff going on in everyone’s lives but when my mother-in-law gathered her daughters’ families and a few other relatives for the Christmas eve dinner, and when they gathered at our house Christmas day, it was honestly easy. Despite the underlying tone of whatever dysfunction befell any member of the family, we actually had a lot of laughs and it was something to look forward to and actually enjoy.

My family back in Vermont however….more of a challenge. Typically we’d plan the weekend after Christmas to make the trek with the kids back to the homeland. We would head to the house my parents retired to, a small cape in the middle of the woods in Marshfield, Vt. There was always snow and a big hill behind the house for sledding and the wood stove kept the house warm, relatively.

My Mom and Dad loved nothing more than to see their kids and their grandkids and have them around, whoever could make it and hopefully it was a good crowd. My two boys and their mom would generally spend the night because it was a long drive and we would have to drive all the way into Burlington afterwards, another hour to get a hotel just for the night to likely leave the next morning. Kind of a waste and my parents loved the extra time with the kids seeing them the next morning.

My sisters and my brothers lived in the state and each about the same drive, one of my sisters a bit closer. If my brother wasn’t working he would come, maybe bring his wife if she was up to it ( she had health issues). My sisters were always there, my eldest with her husband and maybe one of her two sons if they wanted. They were teens so usually working weekends or off with friends, somehow attendance for them wasn’t required (shrug).

My other sister always had all three kids in tow and they happily made the trip to see my parents and us whenever possible. They were amazingly well adjusted despite their home situation and honestly such positive forces for my parents and always made sure my kids were having fun. Her husband would come while they were married as well.

The difference is that my parents house was small. And while we didn’t have a huge family it was pretty tight in there. And if you weren’t outside sledding with the kids or walking in the snowy woods, once the presents were opened and chit-chat subsided there wasn’t a lot to do and really not enough seating.

Add to that one sister that liked to start dinner promptly at noon, and if Boston traffic held us up she started without us. And the other sister just wanting everything to be down-home comfy cozy. It was a hard balance to strike and it was the added pressure to keep things moving so my eldest sister and brother could just get home (again, shrug).

Mom had wine with dinner. The rest of us didn’t partake, although I think maybe we ought to have.

It was….nice….I guess that’s what I’d call it.

The agenda of the two family gatherings was just different.

With my in-laws it was just about getting everyone together having some good food, exchanging gifts and have A LOT of laughs! We played games and reminisced about past holiday gatherings and felt free to judge any family member who wasn’t there. Oh we also judged the family that was there but the reality is that we all did it in fun and it was lighthearted.

No matter what the state of relations was between anyone in the family we all closed the day out with smiles, laughter and love.

Why was it so hard with my own family?

Honestly it always felt forced. For one thing the holidays were over and this was just ‘one more thing’ for everyone to do after they had already done everything. In reflection that seems unfair to my parents who, as I said, just wanted to have their family around and see everyone. They didn’t know one of my sons got car sick on the road through the forest every year, or how antsy my ex-wife would get sitting in the car on the 3.5-4 hour ride. They didn’t know my brother and eldest sisters “lets get there and get it over with so we can get home before it gets dark’ attitude.

Would it have been different if the house had been bigger? If we all lived close by? If we actually played a game and tried to make it fun? Who knows.

Probably not.

Regrets? None.

The agenda I had with my boys and their mom was to make the trip for my parents so they could see their grandkids. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy spending time with my family we just….didn’t really enjoy spending time with my family lol I mean that’s not entirely true but it was certainly different.

I blame me.

I mean I blame all of us, but myself mostly because each one of us had the power to change the situation and make the family closer, the holiday special and enjoy seeing each other but logistics, timing and a million other excuses kept us from trying. We are all responsible but I’m taking blame for my part in not making it better. I am not saying we made things difficult by any means, but at least if the Wayz app had been around we could have avoided the traffic and got to the house and sat down to dinner on time and not added to everyone’s stress level lol

Who eats at noon? I mean really…

But putting aside what sounds like an awkward situation lets dissect the ‘why’ here.

My parents.

We all tried as best we could to gather together for my parents. We didn’t bicker, we didn’t argue, we didn’t call each other out if someone took to much gravy and we thanked mom sincerely for the same handy road-side emergency toolkit she got us again this year. Despite the difference in political affiliations, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or financial disparity we didn’t compare notes, we didn’t argue, we didn’t exchange harsh words. It was the holidays, we were at my parents, they don’t want to hear that they just want to enjoy the family being near.

They just wanted to enjoy the family being near. And that's what we did for them.

So that said, in their own way both holidays ended in success.

And now men, it doesn’t matter if you prefer flannel or Versace, leave your masculinity aside and let me tell you how to man-handle your holiday:

Single guys - go home for the holidays if you can afford it. If you can’t, perhaps your parents or siblings would extend financial assistance or airline miles in lieu of gifts. If you absolutely can’t afford it and your family is gathering, assuming they don’t live in the chasm of ‘uncluttered by cell towers’ wilderness such as my parents, maybe facetime them pre or post dinner so they know you want to be there in spirit. Even if you don’t.

Dating guys - Bring your new girlfriend or boyfriend. If, and only if, you have any inkling that they will be around for next Christmas. But listen, if things are just casual and you don’t see it lasting through Easter, let alone Arbor Day, give the new one the out and head for family time separately. Holidays are stressful enough without the rest of the family having to feign interest in your latest ‘Match’.

Married guys - It’s tough to juggle two families and even tougher when they are located close enough to see them both on the same day. Don’t over think it and don’t over stress. Talk to both families and get them to agree on a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day gathering and just tell them you can’t do both on one day. Yes it’s that easy. Or, just say ‘Hey, we’re hosting this year and everyone on both sides are coming to our house Christmas Day. Dinner is at 2-ish. Everyone is welcome but no one is required and if you can’t make it, see you next year.

Boom, done.

Divorced guys - The challenging group. Holidays for you guys can be a mixed bag of emotion and stress on a different level depending on if kids are involved.

Listen, I don’t care what your issues are with the ex if you have kids involved there is only one thing you have to remember and only one thing you have to get through to your ex when it comes to the holidays.

There are kids involved.

Read that again.

I’ll say it again.

There are kids involved.

The question is, do you want to make their memories of Christmas ones where mom and dad, or mom and mom, or dad and dad put their differences aside and made sure we came together as a family at least for one day, or do you want their memories of Christmas to be War of the Roses?

It is truly not that tough. I could go on for 10 more pages on just how and why you need to choose option one but if you really need more explanation than that then you should spend Christmas day either with my in-laws or on your therapist’s couch.

Seriously guys, man up. Put your grudges aside for one day. It’s Christmas.

Peace on earth, good will towards fucking everyone.

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