Estranged for the Holidays


Estranged Holiday holidays family dysfunctionLast year around this time I planned to write an anonymous post about how to handle difficult relatives. In particular, I was thinking of a in-law–let’s call him Brad–who is a mostly functional alcoholic with an anger problem. I was afraid to write the post, because I wasn’t sure how I would ever be able to remain anonymous, and I didn’t want to embarrass anyone. One year later, I’m not sure it matters.

At Thanksgiving 2017, my husband tried to tell Brad how much they wanted a different, better relationship with him. Brad was drunk, and instead of hearing what was being said, Brad felt attacked. An epic screaming match ensued that woke Brad’s teenage daughter. She came downstairs crying and begged my husband and Brad to stop fighting. My husband was also crying, because he was so frustrated at being so misunderstood. Usually I would say that the blame lies on both sides, but in this case, I am having a hard time blaming anyone but Brad.

For the rest of our visit at Brad’s home, we barely saw him. Brad left early every morning to hunt, and instead of following his usual practice of coming home midday and spending the afternoon and evening with us, he came home around dinner time and collapsed in bed shortly thereafter. This was a blessing and a curse. No one had to tiptoe around his foul mood, and the cousins had a great time together. But as we packed the car to leave, my husband was clearly devastated. Brad always came home in time to say goodbye to us. The two had not spoken in the days since their fight, and now it had ballooned into something bigger with more issues to hash out.

I didn’t dream that a full year would pass without my husband and Brad making up, but it has. At my urging and his mom’s, my husband reached out to Brad recently. I know what he said because I helped him with it. It was steeped in forgiveness and focused on moving forward for the good of everyone. Brad’s response was disappointing to say the least. It was full of blame and righteousness. We were forced to confront the idea that this may be the new normal. We may not see Brad or his family until the next funeral.

Meanwhile, my children can’t understand why they won’t get to see their cousins at Thanksgiving – estranged is not exactly in their vocabulary. We’ve explained it the best we can without giving too much information or saying negative things about Brad. Let me tell you, that was hard. I am devastated that my children are missing out on something that has been so special to them because of the adults’ problems.

Usually I’m a fan of new traditions, but as Thanksgiving approaches, I’m having to work very hard at being thankful for the long weekend at home. For purely selfish reasons, it will be wonderful. But for my children, it will be lacking.

So how do you handle difficult relatives over the holidays? I have absolutely no idea. But what I do know is that open, honest communication is vital to any good relationship. If someone has an anger problem or an alcohol problem or any problem, what kind of supportive family member are we if we don’t acknowledge it and try to get them to help themselves? For as long as I’ve known Brad, everyone has minimized his problems, and at times, even laughed about them. That’s helping no one, and I suppose on some level, I’m thankful that I no longer have to be a part of that. I hope this Thanksgiving, you can all cherish your family and love each other. The anger and the bitterness just aren’t worth it.