Can I justify not spending Christmas with my father this year?
November 6, 2016 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I have to decide whether to spend Christmas with either side of my family - please help me decide?

My parents are separated and I am an only child (both parents get along really well, thankfully). I am now 25 and have followed the same tradition always: one year spent at home (with my Dad included in Christmas usually) and then the next year is spent with the other half of my family who live in a different country.

Some years at home have not been spent with my father when he has been in a relationship, but he split up with his last partner 1 1/2 years ago. For most of my life my father has been a glass half-full sort of person but over the past year I have noticed his mood slip considerably, and in fact, I believe he may be at least a little depressed. I have tried talking to him and so far he agrees he needs to change some things but takes no action. It has got to a point where spending time with him can be difficult because he seems so angry about everything, to the point where he has no self-awareness of the impact his moods are having on others - other times, like today, he is calm and a joy to spend time with.

I have now been asked by mother if I will be spending Christmas with the other side of the family in another country as we always do. My grandmother who was recently diagnosed with dementia also expressed her wish that I go with them. I rarely see this side of the family (whereas I see my father quite frequently), so I do want to go, but I don't want to leave my father wallowing in misery at home.

The only issue is that if I stay with my father (who doesn't cook) I would be cooking on Christmas day and frankly I have been through a lot this year too and would welcome the shared labour of all the festivities. Obviously, Christmas will be much smaller with just us too and I don't know when I will next see that side of my family. But can I justify leaving him alone on Christmas day?
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (14 answers total)
Go see your mom's side of the family. Your Dad is an adult and can make decisions about his life.
posted by arnicae at 1:29 PM on November 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

Why do you feel the need to justify? You're an adult. Just say No and do whatever you want.
posted by paulcole at 1:33 PM on November 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would tell Dad, Grandma has dementia and you'd like to spend some time with her now. I think it would be fine to go every year, as you see Dad quite frequently and likely for other holidays. Tell him you love him over dinner before you go. Maybe this holiday alone will motivate him to start the changes he's been planning. Maybe he'll just watch a lot of football. Either way, this is not your responsibility. It seems fair that you travel to other country for Christmas, and Dad should not reasonably feel less loved because of it. Nor should you feel guilty.
posted by Kalmya at 2:03 PM on November 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

Can I justify not spending Christmas with my father this year?

If you wanted to spend Christmas with your father, you wouldn't phrase your question this way. It took me years (and a child) to give up spending Christmas unpleasantly, and being able to enjoy it was awesome.
posted by threetwentytwo at 2:31 PM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The family tap-dance is tough....

Something that my family has done, though, may be an option for you. My brother and his family alternate which in-laws they see for Christmas, and the Christmas that my brother isn't here, my family holiday is just my parents and me - and the past couple times that's happened, we've just agreed to meet the weekend before for dinner and then we're on our own for the actual holiday. Which is acutally pretty restful.

I realize that you'd be going to your mother's place instead of just chilling at home; the reason I bring this up is because that meeting-the-weekend-before still actually kind of feels like Christmas. I get to see my family, it's just not exactly on December 25th and that's fine. In fact, last year my brother and his family JOINED my parents and me for lunch, and it made it even more festive (because I got to watch my niece and nephew open their gifts and they SERIOUSLY dug them).

So - maybe if you arrange that you and your father will celebrate your Christmas on a different date, that will help. Your father has the reassurance that you want to spend time with him too, and you still do the Christmas thing with him, and then you also will see your mother's family and your grandmother.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:38 PM on November 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

You can stay with your father and not cook. I would try to get him help, though. I don't think you can justify missing Christmas because he's depressed...he might not realize he's depressed and he needs help. If he's always been good to you, it's not reasonable or okay to avoid him when he is sick.

That doesn't mean you can't set boundaries or be honest with him about his behavior and the fact that he seems ill. But it's really sad and not cool IMO to avoid him because he's depressed.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:40 PM on November 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm not your father, but I can relate to him. My kids are 21 and 22. It's going to break my heart the first 12/24 that even one of them doesn't watch Die Hard with me, sleep in my house, and wake up to full stockings Christmas morning. That will likely be this 12/24, and I'm not looking forward to it. But my job was to give them 18+ years of solid traditions to treasure in their memories. My job wasn't to keep them tethered to those traditions.

At this point in their/your lives, work obligations, plans with friends, time with sweethearts' families, etc. begin to take precedence. That's as it should be. I hope you will go with your mother and grandmother if that's what you want to do. Your father's unhappiness is not your responsibility, on Christmas or on any other day. (And if it is clinical depression, no amount of personal sacrifice on your part will fix it.)
posted by headnsouth at 4:43 PM on November 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you are US based, I would make a point to spend Thanksgiving with your father and Christmas with your other family.
posted by raisingsand at 4:59 PM on November 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you followed your usual pattern, where would you go? If it's to your mother's family, then this is easy, and he's probably not expecting to spend Christmas with you. If this would normally be "his turn", then you can still go overseas with a clear conscience (especially given your grandmother's health) but you probably need to handle it more delicately. I had to broach this conversation with my divorced parents when I hit my twenties - that the patterns we'd set up when I was a child were no longer sensible given where all our lives are at. It's not fun, but it was worth it for everyone and holidays are less stressful as a result.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 6:24 PM on November 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

You don't have to do anything you don't want to do.

But I'm reading that you actually want to spend time with both your parents even though your dad can be difficult. So spend time with him. It doesn't have to be on Christmas. Go out and get a pre-Christmas dinner with him somewhere. Spend actual Christmas with mom. It'd be nice if you called your dad on the actual day.

And if it helps, though it undoubtedly sucks to be on the receiving end of negativity, he's not being depressed AT you. He probably just doesn't realize the effect it's having on you--and it's ok to let him know.
posted by danny the boy at 6:41 PM on November 6, 2016

I also grew up in a divorced family where there is an established holiday routine to be fair to each parent. So I totally get how you feel in this situation. But here's the thing. You're an adult. You can do whatever the hell you want for holidays now. Especially as an only child, this is officially now your call.

However, if you love your dad, there is a way to do this well so what you choose to do doesn't feel like a slap in the face. Nobody wants to feel like someone they love doesn't like spending time with them. With that in mind, I think you have two choices here:

1. Tell your dad that, because your grandmother has dementia and lives in another country, you'd like to spend this holiday season with her. You don't know how many more good years you will have with her, and you want to make the most of the time you have. (Presuming that your dad does not also have a terminal illness, which is ultimately what dementia is.) My own grandmother has dementia, is no longer really herself, and I so regret not visiting more during the time when we knew she had a memory impairment but before she was gone, so to speak.

2. Don't spend the holidays with either parent. The years I have decided to do my own thing for Christmas have gone over much better than any time I have ever arranged things to favor one parent over the other.

Also, a side note re the Christmas dinner thing. You're an adult, and since it's just you and your dad, it's perfectly OK for you to say that you don't want to cook and come up with some other plan instead. It would be a shame if you never spend Christmas with your dad again because you don't like cooking big festive meals all on your own. You need to come up with a workable plan that will help you enjoy holidays with your dad, because he's going to be your dad for a long time.
posted by Sara C. at 6:49 PM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

This year he should understand when you tell him that you're going to spend Christmas with your grandma who has dementia. There really is limited time left for that.

Going forward, particularly if it's just the two of you when you do spend Christmas with your dad, you should go out to dinner. Cooking elaborately for two is a chore.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:38 PM on November 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

There is a very good chance your grandmother won't recognize you next year. That alone would be a good reason to go. I have lost two grandparents to dementia (one is now gone, one still alive but has no idea who I am) and it really sucks when they don't remember you. Go now.
posted by john_snow at 9:27 AM on November 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also, talk to your dad about depression. You might not want to use that word directly but ask about how he has been feeling. Here is a typical assessment and symptom list. If he feeling down, low energy or not enjoying life on a regular basis, urge him to go see his doctor. (Primary care if fine, it doesn't need to be a psychiatrist or therapist.) It could be depression or it could be any of a list of other medical problems (thyroid, heart etc.). Getting the problem diagnosed and treated could give him back the quality of life that he used to have.
posted by metahawk at 9:26 PM on November 7, 2016

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