Thursday 21 November 2019

We need a reshuffle in the family dynamic at Christmas - or else it's on to the sherry

However well-meaning, my over-ambitious mother would ceremoniously declare ad nauseum (as we grudgingly hauled the big, clunky oak table from kitchen to dining room) this to be
However well-meaning, my over-ambitious mother would ceremoniously declare ad nauseum (as we grudgingly hauled the big, clunky oak table from kitchen to dining room) this to be "the best Christmas ever!" Photo: Getty

Grace Vaughan

When it comes to Christmas Day most families are on the spectrum - falling somewhere between the humble tumble 'Waltons' and the not so wholesome 'Texas Chainsaw' clan. In our family, we have a John Boy, a real live one (eldest child and brother, called John, answers to John Boy) but that's where the familial common ground ends with Walton Mountain. Leather-Face and his chainsaw-wielding family I feel a stronger correlation for.

I hasten to add, our family is not in the habit of carving up anything beyond a turkey, but we lived on a farm too and in territory dogged by religion, albeit more Irish Border than 'Bible'-belt Texas. However, somewhere between both of these extreme folds our family functions. The major dysfunction, however paradoxical, happens during family holidays with Christmas Day definitely taking the biscuit. As always, everything starts off all Walton-esque, for me the sentimental Christmas drive home from the city with warm fuzzy thoughts of log fires and pleasant family catch-ups.

Conveniently I've forgotten or have a mental block around Christmas Days of yore, where time spent with grown-up siblings wasn't so fa-la-la-la.

For a lot of families, not just ours, that's just not the reality and never will be unless that phenomenon we call family dynamics undergoes a major reshuffle. Because going home to the family you grew up with can be like stepping through a time warp - where everyone reverts to type and regresses to the roles they play within that family of origin. So the game begins - where unfair, ever-changing rules are dependent on whether there is a scapegoat/golden-child dynamic involved.

On Christmas morning our 'Inn' was always open and like a makeshift early house would be filled with neighbours for a boozy session of music and yarns. Nobody wanted the craic to end, but in the background was that little formality - the Christmas dinner with family.

At that point guilt kicks in because you know you'd prefer to hear tall tales about Irish wolfhound pups being breastfed by maid servants rather than partake in small talk at the family table.

Every other day of the year we don't eat at the table together. Not very family-friendly, but that was our natural environment. When you're forcibly taken out of that and society expects that family endures, the formality and pretension of having to act like this make-believe family off the telly means there's going to be hiccups and toys thrown out of prams.

However well-meaning, my over-ambitious mother would ceremoniously declare ad nauseum (as we grudgingly hauled the big, clunky oak table from kitchen to dining room) this to be "the best Christmas ever!".

As annual as the queen's speech, seven pairs of eyes would roll whenever we'd hear our mother's doomed-to-failure declaration because she's upped the ante already.

Being female doesn't help the situation, because in real time you watch the men get served before the women, and that's still a bone of contention, and to numb the pain of discrimination you grab the sherry for the trifle or whatever's nearest to hand.

Dutch courage on board, inhibitions lowered, you refuse to play the family game a moment longer unless there's a serious rule change. Everybody gets a turn at playing themselves and at least once should get to choose a topic of conversation without interruption or unwillingness to engage from other family members. In short, everybody is treated equally and as an individual.

We may have all grown up in the same house, but that doesn't equal same, or mean we share anything in common beyond blood type. Different skills, different outlooks, different beliefs (or none), we all have something to bring to the table, even if it is to impart important knowledge garnered since leaving the fold. So you offer to go first.

"You know Pope Benedict wrote in his last book that Jesus wasn't actually born on December 25? In fact, they don't even know what season he was born into."

Okay, so what if you hear the sudden scraping of chairs against the freshly polished wooden floor and half your family bolt across the Border to the nearest pub. Brussels sprouts mixed with a dose of reality can be hard to stomach and you suddenly find it's Game Over. Great, 'It's a Wonderful Life' is about to start and what's Christmas without family films that you'd prefer to watch alone?

Irish Independent

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