There were a lot of things going on for Gen X during the holidays of their growing-up years that were difficult. That is in part because Gen X grew up during the highest divorce rate in history, which led to the most blended family situations in history. Take all the complications of that in addition to the usual problems that go on in families -- the hopes and expectations of what we feel the holidays should hold, the hurts and disappointments of what it often does hold -- and you end up with a lot to deal with.
If you are a Gen Xer who had to spend holidays with a step-family/more than one step family, you may have noticed:
a) they didn't really want you there, or
b) they didn't really want you there but tried to at least be cordial (or at least some/most of them did)
Or perhaps you had a step-family that seemed initially welcoming and made you think that you could really be a part of their family until some painful moment occurred when you discovered that you were, in fact, just really an outsider. You may remember trying to navigate your second, third, or fourth step-family situation. This kind of situation is hard because you still have scars from the previous situation, and by this time all your your naivety has been replaced with cynicism, yet you've got to find the energy to completely start again. This kind of situation might mean that you had more than one moment when you are left out of some group conversation at a holiday meal or you don't get the punchline to an inside joke. It was in one of those moments that you realized that you essentially spent your life as some sort of foster child and that you raised yourself.
Now you don't have to go to those holiday dinners anymore. Now you have a choice to do what you want.
This means you do not have to:
a) pretend to smile and be happy, or
b) get in trouble for not smiling and being happy
As you go on in life, when you find yourself sitting at yet another table where you have to swallow your anger or hold back your tears...don't eat at that table anymore. Most importantly, now that you are the adult, make a conscious decision to never treat others the way you have been treated.
If you are a Gen Xer who has created a blended family of your own, remember what it feels like to be the step-child -- it would in fact be hard to forget. During the holidays, treat your step-children with genuine love if you can, or at least genuine kindness. Kids can smell fakeness from a mile away, and holidays are some of the most vivid childhood memories they will have for the rest of their life.
One very Gen X person I used to know in college told me a story once that his mom's boyfriend dragged their Christmas tree outside when he was a child, poured a can of gasoline on it, and then lit it on fire. The man was angry that he didn't get to have Christmas as a kid, and apparently that is how he dealt with the anger. My friend was only a little boy at the time -- he and his brother watched through the cold panes of the window as the ornaments melted and the flames scorched the branches. Then he looked at his brother who dryly said, "Well, there goes Christmas."
When I heard this story in college, I felt sorry for my friend and his brother. As I have grown older I have also begun to feel sorry for the tree-igniting boyfriend. I have seen so much more of life and how people's suffering can make them do crazy things. My advice this holiday season is to take extra good care of yourself. Bring yourself to the present moment when your mind drifts to unhappy memories, and give others the most genuine love you are able to. Even if your holidays were horrible when you were growing up, even if you have every reason in the world to be mean to other people, don't be the guy with the gasoline can.
This week, and for the rest of the holiday season, I have given myself permission to go take a moment when I need one, and to take it easy on myself.
Take it easy on yourself, too.
(c) 2011 photo and writing by Chloe - all rights reserved