At this time of year we notice everything wrong in our lives
Laura Kennedy: Christmas is a time for togetherness, if at all possible, and that should not come at anyone’s expense
To keep the peace, can’t we all just pander to the wishes and desires of those who are often the most unreasonable or demanding people in the room?
Around Christmas and New Year, we reimagine our lives. This re-imagining is prompted to some extent by the fact that we’ve reached the stagnant depths of winter, when it’s dark until late in the morning and the gloom starts to descend again at four in the afternoon. A lot of time is spent indoors, quietly seething. We have time to notice – both constructively and unconstructively, everything that’s wrong in our lives.
Christmas has been and gone. We have gorged ourselves. The annual New Year’s challenge, which involves trying to find a damn seat at your local or trying to avoid all the nonsense and wait it out at home, is coming. In the interim, we have the future to think about, and the past few days to chew on. This is, for many, the only time of year when family gets together, regardless of all the underlying tensions and malevolent looking fissures in the foundation. Differences are supposedly overlooked for an afternoon or two, and we sit down to a meal together. The more attendees there are, the higher the likelihood that someone resents someone else, or everyone resents everyone else, and these tensions thrash like eels under a clear surface.
It is palpable. The sense that you can’t say anything about uncle Jimmy being back on the booze, or mention religion in the hearing of auntie Mary, or tell granny or grandad about their teenage grandson’s new boyfriend, or their granddaughter’s recent abortion. For the sake of peace, can’t we all just get through it? To keep the peace, can’t we all just pander to the wishes and desires of those who are often the most unreasonable or demanding people in the room?
During Christmas, much of the time we cannot “keep the peace”, and arguments erupt, or jabby comments are passed across the table with the potatoes or the gravy. In the aftermath of these revealed thoughts and sentiments, when it is not possible any longer to pretend that everyone likes everyone else and that everything is “grand”, there are a few options.
Family relationships are involuntary. There is no other kind of relationship you will have where those close to you will advise that you “should” or “must” either reconcile or maintain a relationship with someone because of their arbitrary link to you. We don’t say “you should forgive Jenny for stealing from you because she has her own problems and you’ll regret it if you don’t. After all, she’s your friend.” But we often say something like “you should forgive your father for being neglectful of you as a child because he has his own problems and you’ll regret it if you don’t. After all, he is your father”.
It is acceptable to cull from your life anyone who makes it worse, provided you have good reasons to do so, whether they share much of your DNA or not
An annual evaluation of the people around you is advisable, though perhaps after a cooling-off period, since Christmas can heighten tensions and distort things somewhat. It seems feasible to suggest that the best relationships we have are impeded by the worst we have, and that it is a healthy decision not to socialise or be intimate with anyone who does not have good will toward you, or is actively abusive or unkind. It is acceptable to cull from your life anyone who makes it worse, provided you have good reasons to do so, whether they share much of your DNA or not.
Anyone who does this will be accused of being the problem, because that is how we think. Everything was fine before. When you made a “thing” of your aunt commenting on your weight all the time, you changed the dynamic and now Christmas is ruined. There is always fallout to putting your foot down, particularly when others are not used to it, but it is worth doing all the same in order to protect yourself.
There is one caveat, here, however. Before we decide to part ways with someone, we certainly owe them a thorough and charitable consideration of their behaviour toward us, and ours to them. It is always possible that we ourselves are the problem family member, intolerant of other people’s ideas or deliberately starting conversations about topics we know there will be disagreement on when we cannot accept that disagreement. Christmas is a time for togetherness, if at all possible. That should not come at anyone’s expense.