Sunday, December 27, 2009

No longer haunted by holiday depression

For much of my life I spent the holidays obsessing about not having the perfect family. I’ve always been haunted by Brady Bunch like visions of the big happy family. My family of origin was small and dysfunctional. And continuing the family pattern I went on to two unhappy marriages. I finally got the marriage thing right the third time around but the dream of the perfect family still eluded me--a loving partner, wonderful children, and a large, supportive extended family.

My husband I did not have children (which was the right decision for us) but one consequence was putting the Brady Bunch dream further out of reach. And my little son was stuck shuttling back and forth between 2 households in a tension- filled joint custody arrangement.

For the most part, I haven’t wasted too much time feeling sorry for myself because I don’t have this dream family. But the holidays always brought these anxieties to the foreground and there were years when I really dreaded the holidays.

Yes, I know how rare it is to have a happy marriage and to have an extended family free of tension, in-law problems, and ancient, unresolved quarrels threatening to disrupt the family dinner. It’s not like the whole world has something from which I alone am shut out.

For reasons I don’t fully understand I’ve gotten beyond my dream of the perfect family. I have my wonderful husband, my son, my sister and her family, and many wonderful friends. I will never have that huge happy family I’ve always dreamed about, but I’ve made my peace with that. And one consequence is that the holidays are no longer an ordeal to be gotten through.


  1. Hi Karen,

    I loved talking to you at Kathy and Dave's. And I really related here.

    My family is. . . lively. And this year my most contentious sister and her crazy family chose not to be with us, which broke my heart. But irony of ironies, it made the holiday calmer and more intimate. So you never know.

    I really like this blog.

  2. It's good to hear that you've been able to find your way to this more tranquil approach, Karen. As too many anecdotes and a dense scientific literature confirm, the holidays are complicated (that's the handy term that covers a multitude of pains) and for those who don't fit some happy family profile, the challenges (okay, euphemism #2) are manifold. Enjoy your wonderful husband and son, your wonderful retirement, and your (if I do say so) wonderful friends. You've done a lot to craft a loving holiday spirit for those around you!

  3. I think it's okay (and a wise therapist assured me that it was so) to accept the fact that you wish you had something more wonderful to reflect upon. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have a Brady Bunch family - it would probably be great. But I'm so happy that you can see that what you have now is pretty special, too.

    Being comfortable with the reality of my life is one of the great benefits of getting older, I think.

  4. My family is a hot mess...aren't most. Thanks for your insights. Happy New Year.

  5. Ashleigh,
    I agree "Being comfortable with the reality of... life is one of the great benefits of getting older."

    I'm not sure I'm completely there yet, but I'm a lot closer than I once was.