Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


My son, his wife and our grandchildren – aged six and seven – have always spent Christmas with us, but this year they want to spend it with her parents. I've tried to persuade her parents to come here, but no, they want to have it at their house. And they haven't asked us, which is very upsetting. So my son has suggested having a "pretend" Christmas here, a week before... but I don't like the idea. I gatherit's quite the norm – but then the grandchildren will have two Christmases and get confused. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Grania


Virginia says... I'm not sure what you mean by saying the grandchildren will "get confused". They'll have a "pretend Christmas" with you and a real one with their other grandparents. They're not two and three – they're six and seven. And while there's a lot that children of that age can't understand – it's difficult for them to get a grasp of the whole idea of history, for example, at that age – they can certainly distinguish between what's real and what's "pretend".

If you want to make it completely clear, then don't have turkey, for instance, but some other dish. Instead of having a traditional lunch, perhaps have a brilliant Christmas tea, or dinner. If they're staying the night on the day before, don't give them stockings, but presents under the tree. Or you could try to impose some kind of special tradition for a pretend Christmas – such as a trip to a pantomime on the day, or going carol-singing, something that will be repeated year after year on the pretend days. That way, instead of it just being a carbon copy of the actual day, it'll be something different, and special, a day in its own right.

It must be hurtful not being invited to spend Christmas with your daughter-in-law's parents, but then do you always invite them when you have Christmas at your house? If not, be sure to start the tradition next year so they'll get the message that reciprocal invitations are in order.

Some children have far more than one pretend Christmas, remember. In these days of divorce they may spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after with different members of the divorced grandparents' families – all the adults getting so greedy for their share of the kids at Christmas that most of the holiday period is spent driving along motorways from one home to another. And consider the real confusion that happens when one of the children is a step-child... you can get into myriad complications.

There is nothing worse for a family than a grasping Christmas granny. Their day can often be ruined by guilt, particularly if, when they ring wish them a happy Christmas, the grandparents bleat dolefully: "So glad you're having a good time. We're just sitting here, all alone, having had a light salad, and the telly."

Your son and his wife are doing their very best not to disappoint you. Make your pretend Christmas one that they'll enjoy and look forward to when it happens, as it may the year after next, again.


Readers say...

Be flexible


Our grandchildren live abroad and we have always said (glowing with virtue) that the boys should not be carted across Europe at a time of crowds and strikes. One year we said, let us have one Christmas before the boys are too old and let them have a memory of Christmas in England. It upset the French grandmother but was a great success. It is a mistake to "always" do anything. Since then, their Christmases have been different each year. All families have this problem and as long as no one set of parents grabs more than their fair share, the children will have a whole series of exciting and different Christmases to look back on. That, surely, is what it is all about.

Freda By email


You're lucky

Be grateful that your grandchildren have two sets of wonderful grandparents; give them the chance to experience this, and count yourself lucky that you have the memory of so many Christmases yourself to keep in your heart. Then think about Easter!

Janet Long By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, Our four-year-old daughter is desperate to have a kitten for Christmas. She just can't stop pestering us. My husband, who was surrounded by animals in his childhood, is all in favour, but I'm not so sure, particularly as we live in a small flat and don't have a garden. I'm sure my daughter will be very good with it, but it seems to me to be too big a responsibility. I was wondering if a goldfish would be an alternative, but my husband rightly says, you can't cuddle a goldfish. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Barbie

What would you advise Barbie to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent., or go to Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (

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