Christmas Together and Apart: Tables Turned, Lessons Learned


Sydney, Sunday

I’ve been thinking a lot about family globalisation and change, specifically related to how, where, and with whom I’ll be spending Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year holidays this year.

I know change is part of growth and life, and I try to be mindful and appreciative of the gift of time we have on this earth.  My mother always says, “The older you get, the faster it goes.”  As usual, she’s right

It started with U.S. Thanksgiving this year, so perhaps I should be better prepared for continuing change at Christmas.  Everyone in my immediate family did something new and different for Thanksgiving:

·        my son, after going to my stepson’s for the past four years during college, spent this holiday with his girlfriend and her family in the Midwest

·        my mother, after spending the past thirteen Thanksgivings (since we moved to Australia) with my cousins in New Jersey, chose to spend the afternoon at the home of the daughter of one of her new friends from assisted living, who lives much closer to her than my cousins do

·        my father and his wife, 36 years his junior, had to cancel their usual plans because she, not he, is in ill health

·        Thanksgiving Thursday has always been just another work day in Australia, but I left my corporate career earlier this year.  Instead of sitting on Asia Pacific teleconferences all day, and due to our strict 3-month airline itinerary, Clive and I spent Thanksgiving in Paris en route home to Sydney.  We walked on Boulevard Haussmann and then rue de Rivoli, browsing at Galignani and WH Smith bookshops.

·        Today we had Clive’s children for a belated Thanksgiving dinner and a belated Clive’s birthday get-together, and talked about Christmas plans.

Tables Turned, Lessons Learned

On the difficult side of this year’s Christmas, my son will remain in the U.S., where he’s happily settled into his new job and young adult life in Washington, D.C.  I’m delighted he’ll spend time with my mother and stepson over the holidays, and see his girlfriend when she visits him during her law school break. 

It seems only yesterday it was just the two of us stumbling around the house after my husband died, fielding kind invitations from friends and neighbours but choosing to have a simple, mostly private holiday with just ourselves for company.  I will miss my son terribly this year; I’m already missing his presence and energy coming and going over the holidays.

But what can I say?  When we moved to Australia in 1995, I know both of my parents missed us terribly.  I feel amazed and humbled at how the Universe finds a way to teach us important life lessons.  Only now, as a mother whose child is far, far away at Christmas, do I fully appreciate the gift my parents gave me of flexibility and support for my life decisions.  Either of them could have complained or laid on all manner of guilt trips, but neither did.  They simply told us they missed us, then went on to share respective holiday plans.  My mother even said, “Don’t worry, dear.  We’re close all year long, and I’m happy to see you when you’re here.”

In the years ahead, I will try and hope I’ll succeed at being equally supportive and flexible with my son.

The Good Side of the Equation  

There’s a wonderful “plus” side of Christmas this year, which is that one and we hope both of Clive’s adult children will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us in Sydney.  This includes two pre-school boys who are at that perfect age of Christmas wonder and excitement, but that’s only part of the reason their being here will be special.

This will be the first Christmas in 20 years, since he was divorced, that Clive has spent the start of the day with his children.  Like many divorced dads, including my own, he deferred to the children’s mother in terms of holiday plans and priorities.  Some years he had invitations from friends; one or two times he went to England and was with family there; but many years in Australia he spent the day completely alone.

As for me, no longer do I have only my son to consider when making Christmas plans.  As with many blended adult stepfamilies, our schedules now have to take into account in-laws, exes, significant others, and all the permutations and combinations thereof.  Clive’s son and daughter-in-law are themselves juggling the needs of multiple sets of parents and siblings.  We decided the best we could do for them is what my parents did for me, and simply say, “We’re flexible.  Whatever works for you is fine with us.”

In the past few years, what worked best was for Clive’s family to get together with us on Boxing Day.  This year, it’s a fantastic early Christmas gift to know they’ll be with us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Tonight Clive asked me if it will be harder for me to have his family with us, if their presence might somehow highlight even more my son’s absence.  I said no, I don’t think I’ll miss my son any more or less; I’ll just miss him a lot no matter what.  And now I’m happy for Clive and all of us that we’ll be with his grandchildren as they wake up to see what Santa has brought.

It’s time to start making menu lists.  Champagne and prawns on the barbie are at the top, and a French buffet and Bûche de Noël for Christmas Eve.  If my son were here, we’d have Sydney rock oysters, too.  We’ll save that for another time.


4 Responses

  1. My brother has had to fit in with his ex for years and years..and I think I will have to do the same with my grandchildren. My youngest son has just split with his partner, and that means I won’t get to see the children at all…

  2. Yes I would still miss my son, no matter who is there! Great for Clive that they are going to be there for christmas eve as well.

    I have no one coming this year, and normally my yougest son and partner would come down on boxing day..also my eldest and his wife, but they are at this moment awaiting the arrival of their baby..should be any day now.

  3. Ah, divorce–the gift that keeps on giving. I get a little melancholy at Christmas as my family isn’t here. Last Christmas was awful as my husband’s ex gets to do all of her Christmas parties and dinner with the children and my husband gets their leftover time which hurts him. I decided I never again would spend another Christmas here but some plans that we had have changed and unless I come up with something at the last minute I think we may be here again. I’d love to be on a warm beach in the sunshine somewhere.

  4. Thanks Anne and Linda and cheers to all of us (and our spouses/partners) this holiday season. We should all just get together on a Sydney beach …

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