Dear Virginia,

My son, who lives 200 miles away, has three children, whom I adore, and his wife has a large family who live nearby and see them a lot of the time. We’ve never been asked to visit for Christmas, and when I suggest they come to us, they always find a way out of it. Yet we have happy and frequent visits at all other times of the year. I’m hurt by my family’s thoughtlessness at Christmas. I don’t know what to do.

Yours sincerely, Averil

Christmas is so laden with emotion – and most of it unpleasant – that I sometimes wish it just didn’t exist. I can see the point of it in a deprived past; one day of feasting and splashing out on presents must have been a real thrill for everyone. But now Christmas spells the horror of cardsending, present-buying, presentwrapping, endless guilt and anxiety about money, feeling sick and, usually, disappointment afterwards when it wasn’t quite as jolly as you’d hoped for.

And then there is the added pain, for grandparents like you, Averil, of never actually experiencing this grisly feast with your own grandchildren. But it isn’t, surely, so much that you have a hankering to be with the family on 25 December, a day usually full of stress and tears, but that you haven’t been asked?

Most grandparents are happy with the “one year on, one year off system”, which means Christmas is usually shared, yearly, between one or other of the in-laws. Which takes us back, I think, as we usually are, to the simple question of manners. Were your son to say to you, “Look, I’m sorry we’re not asking you for Christmas this year, but my wife’s family is so full-on that we just can’t cope with more people. Also it would be stressful and expensive for us all to travel to you for Christmas. But it would be great if you could spent New Year with us”, then I don’t think you would mind half as much as you do now. Your understandable hurt would be acknowledged and you could almost feel that, by not making a fuss, you were actually helping him to get through a difficult time.

But he hasn’t said this. You could write him a letter explaining how you feel, but I think letters are tricky at the best of times. They can be shown around, analysed, phrases can be dissected and, before you know where you are, someone’s put a slant on it that’s completely unintended. No, I’d try to get your emotions under complete control and then ring your son up, saying: “I quite understand that we can’t do anything about Christmas this year, but each year that goes by and we’re not asked, I get increasingly upset.

Is there any way you can think of to make the situation better next year, so that we’re all happy?” That way you’re appealing to the diplomat and peacemaker in him, and talking to him as an equal, rather than ringing in a voice full of resentment and accusation, like a wailing matchgirl begging to be taken in from the cold. If you can’t bear this, get someone like your husband to do this on your behalf. But it would be better coming straight from you. It sounds as if you haven’t yet made clear the strength of your feelings of unhappiness at being left out, and while you say nothing, nothing happens. It’s time to speak out.

Readers say...

Don’t be the victim

You describe a situation which is both unfortunate and hurtful – but one that is far from being unheard of (I speak from experience!). There is nothing you can do in the short term to change it. Instead of reflecting on your hurt, place yourselves firmly in the fore by arranging fabulous ways of spending your private Christmas. Why not a different foreign location each year in an hotel where you will be really pampered? You will thereby avoid that deadly aura of victimhood that descends on you like a shroud at this time of the year – and also gain the respect of your son (who might wonder what he is missing in the babble of this stressful affair that he repeatedly allows himself meekly to be sucked into). Merry Christmas!


Guilt trips won’t help

Apart from the Christmas issue, you say you have a good relationship with your son and his family. Don’t jeopardise this by pressuring them. If they are choosing not to come, for whatever reason, laying on the guilt will only cause stress and resentment – and you still may not get what you want. My partner and I experience this pressure from my parents every single year, and we dread Christmas. One solution might be to have your “Christmas” with your son and his family on a day other than the 25th, leaving the stress of the big day to your daughter-in-law’s family and leaving you free to plan and enjoy some special time with your grandchildren on your own terms.


West Midlands, by email

Family travel is hellish

Travelling with three little children is not easy at any time, let alone Christmas. What Averil calls thoughtlessness, I call reluctance to travel. With small children, it’s much easier to entertain them when you have all their favourite toys, books and DVDs in one place, and when they have their own beds to have a rest in. Why not ask to be invited rather than sit and be miserable?


Witney, Oxon

Rent a cottage

Our daughter and her family, like Averil’s, live 200 miles away. My husband and I rent a cottage when we want to visit her. We have found one about 10 minutes away by car. This saves her having to re-arrange bedrooms when we visit. It also means that we have full access to the children during the day, but can give our daughter and partner some privacy in the evenings. I suggest that Averil tries this in the summer, then books it for Christmas next year. She can offer her own hospitality and invite all the family round, including the in-laws.


Get used to it

How I sympathise with Averil! My wife and I have lived with a similar situation for the past six years. I’d play it like this. First of all, talk to your son face to face on his own. Try to get to the root of the problem. Appeal to your son’s better nature, suggesting that fair play would amount to some form of alternation at the festive season. Beyond that, talk to your daughter-in-law and even appeal to her parents to help you out (maybe even inviting them to join you at Christmas as well). I’ve tried all this myself, and am no nearer getting my own son home on Christmas Day. However, I do have a much better understanding of where the sticking points are – and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve done all I possibly can. If you gothrough my routine, you too must be prepared for disappointment, but you’re sure to learn something on the way to help you endure the pain. On the other hand, you could be pain. On the other hand, you could be lucky!