Sunday 18 February 2018

Dear Mary: The people I can't bear to hear from at Christmas time

Mary O'Conor

Christmas is coming. I will put an electric candle display in my window, buy and wrap gifts for a few good friends, neighbours and for the nicer relations. I had a great family; my married parents, my grandparents and other relatives who were all good to me. They have all sadly passed away.

I have a married older sister and whatever way she raised her girls, she doesn't seem to have explained too much to them about the rest of her relatives, nor has she explained to them that family isn't just their own household. They seem to have been told very little, and one of them did write a nice letter years ago asking me for details as to who was related to them, and I responded back positively explaining the family tree.

What has happened ever since is sad, where they made it an ordeal hearing from them at Christmas for both myself and another sister who is also on her own. I began to dread getting a card and small gift, never wrapped and that always bothered me. There was an accompanying letter giving their CV for the year but lacking in any sort of empathy.

It took such an emotional toll that I burst into tears or flew into a rage as I would have sent quite a few nice letters over the years giving an intelligent glimpse of me and what I was receiving in return was nothing like that.

Last Christmas, I had to do something drastic as I couldn't open their package and so I quietly disposed of it. I ended up in desperation writing a sad but not unfriendly note, that unfortunately I didn't want anything from them and that I needed peace of mind at Christmas and sadly they were not giving me that.

They were basically clueless, but I didn't write that to them. My other sister would get so upset with them too.

Their mother was insensitive to our feelings growing up and she was bossy and a bit of a madam but her girls don't know how bad she was. Nobody else's views – not even older relations' or my foster parents' – mattered, only hers.

Anyhow, that is how I solved it lastChristmas. No one, Mary, should be upset at Christmas. I put it down to a strange lack of understanding on their part. My note woke them up a bit and that was the intention.

How does all this appear to you?

Mary Replies:

It appears to me that the sins of the mother are being visited on the children. Neither you nor your other sister got on well with the older sister who is the mother of the girls who have been sending you the unwrapped gift and the obligatory letter every year. They were sufficiently interested in you to ask for the family history, which you gave, and you followed it up with some letters over the years, and that, to me, is very positive.

Regarding the letter, it is very normal for people to enclose a factual type of letter with their Christmas card giving everybody an update on what has been happening during the year. As it is going to many different people it does tend to be specific rather than emotional, so perhaps you have been a bit too sensitive about this.

Every year, as early as October, clients bring problems relating to Christmas to the counselling room – with couples, it is often whose family they are going to spend the day with, or what relatives they would have to visit, and single people often speak of feeling that they have to spend the day with extended family they don't even like.

So you are not alone in having problems at Christmas. But above all, Christmas should be a time of goodwill, especially a time for young children, and sometimes this gets forgotten and it becomes a time of stress. You have taken away the cause of your stress as you perceived it, and hopefully you will have a happier Christmas this year.

However, I feel that there is still some unfinished business between yourself and your older sister which you may wish to deal with at some future date, and leave her daughters out of the equation.

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