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Impossible Christmas Legacies of Perfect Mothering

“F* Christmas.  I Quit.  You’re all on your own.”  Hey Mama, have you been there?

Woof.  It’s December.  And if you’ve ever felt like you had to carry or save the Holidays, it can be real stomach turner to arrive at this month.

Seriously. Season of Joy? Maybe not if you’ve had losses, separations, pains and disappointments around the holidays.

I want to share a personal story with you today.

Mostly, so you know – You are certainly not alone. 

My grandma and my mom were the hostesses with the most-esses.  Hands down.

They were revered for their ability to create community, and “hold the family together“ with the holiday gatherings. And, of course, they were also taken for granted. 

They spent an incredible amount of energy, time, and emotional labor, creating the happy holiday experience for the entire extended family. I know, because I was there helping. Setting up the folding chairs, ironing tablecloths, scrubbing pots and pans, and holding my mom while she sobbed with a migraine every Dec 22 or 23, the stress of hosting the impending gatherings shaking her to her bones. 

But no one really knew that my mom had a breakdown, because she’d always pull it together and create a seeming miracle.  The Christmas Eve Bash was the party of the year for my family. Our pride and joy. Seventy folks gathered, maybe 40 of which were blood family and 30 of which were “orphans,” friends who did not have family in town so we adopted em.

When mom died in 2015, I felt pressured to take it all on. Woof. I dodged the issue, a reluctant heiress to the role of family hostess. I was single mom and business owner living in a beach cottage with my teen daughter, struggling to create enough cash flow to pay rent and college bills for my son.  Oh, yah, and I was also grieving my MOM!

Within months of my mom dying people were already asking my dad and I if we would be hosting the Christmas Eve bash.  And honestly we just couldn’t do it. We were still reeling from the five month brutal decline that took my mom away from us at the age of 73. And Dad’s only way of recovering was to sell that house they had shared, clear out the past, and to create a radically new chapter for himself to carry on.

Friends and family grieved the loss of that house perhaps as much as we did.  It had been party-central for all the baby showers, wedding showers, engagement parties and ALL of it for a huge extended community for 40 years.  

Over the following year, I had a couple family members with good intentions express how much they missed the Christmas Eve bash at our house. There were a couple of family members who outright complained about dad selling his house, wishing he would’ve kept it so everyone could enjoy it.  And there were a few who subtly or bluntly said I was supposed to be carrying on for my mom, stepping right into her shoes as matriarch host. 

Everything in me said HELL NO.  I felt awful about it. Sad, guilty, resentful.

But of course the holidays carried on in my big family. Because, as it turns out, the whole dang world does NOT revolve around me, despite the voice of my rather large ego.

Other family members hosted a Christmas Eve gathering, and the tradition has continued with really fun festive parties. Yes, of course it was never the same without mom and grandma pouring themselves into the collective. How could it be?  But it was pretty great.

Inside of me, the Christmas drama continued, however.  Two years after my mom died, I moved 600 miles away from my extended family. Knowing I would miss them, I moved into my land, the forest that I had fallen in love with. I started to create my own holiday traditions with my kids who were also going to school in Northern California. 

I got myself a Midwestern boyfriend, who loved Christmas, and he helped create some new family centered traditions. I moved him right in, because I missed family, and obviously he was a family guy!  And I trust boyfriends WAY too easily! (can you hear the scary music building in the background?) Well, this guy experienced a severe mental health break that sent him into a violent rage that ended our relationship and spurred him to abscond with my Christmas things. Like a real life Grinch, he took it all. The Christmas items handmade from my grandmother, the ornaments made by my kids over the years, and all the whoosits and whatsits and other valuables as well, because in his delusions I owed him $100K.  He even had a cute dog he took away, like in the Grinch.  It was not as funny as the movie. It was brutal. 

I had loved him. I grieved him. I feared him. I beat myself up for ever trusting this guy, allowing him into my family. It took me over a year to recover from the trauma he inflicted on me, my land, my family in his disregulated state of threats, surveillance and assault.  

The first set of holidays without grandma’s handmade jewelry tree, without the kids old clay ornaments, without my mom’s crèche… the kids and I felt very sad, as expected.  Everything was an empty replacement.

The second year though, we re-made Christmas in our own image. The kids now grown, leaving home. Me honoring Winter Solstice as much as the birth of Christ. We chose felted creatures and magic mushrooms for the tree.  

And a good man entered the scene. My current partner, Tony, a kind creative grounded man my family has known for a decade, shaped a new mystical crèche for us with bark and moss and magic from the land. He made quince jam and apple butter and wove cedar fronds into a wreath for the front door.  We traveled to San Diego to celebrate with his daughter as well.  We were reforming our family holidays from the inside.

So now I’ve come full circle about Christmas. Even though the ghosts of Christmas past still haunt me.

Last year, for the first time in a long while, I could really feel gratitude for the whole journey. Gratitude that I did not force myself to carry the burden of trying to replace my mother in her image. Gratitude for moving to the land that makes my heart sing. And gratitude even for the vicious theft that let me release the ties to a past that is gone, and to rebirth this season with meaning for me and my family.

This year I’m excited to attend the new version of the Christmas Eve Bash in San Diego with my amazing extended family. Without guilt. Without grief. With open heart. 

From the longest night and darkest days, the Light is birthed anew.

We can’t have the Light without passing through the Dark.

As Wise Women, we’ve learned this the hard way.

And that is truly the gift of this season for us all.

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About Mellissa

Mellissa was a Stanford-educated business lawyer until her intuitive abilities awakened in the year 2000 with the birth of her daughter.  Now she bridges the worlds of business strategy and intuitive intelligence. Creative designers, Fortune 500 executives, and thought leaders hire her to teach them how to Channel their Genius – to create on demand, to stay in their flow state, and to create lucrative businesses that follow their souls’ calling.

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One Comment

  • Sugar Bee says:

    My story is not as tragic or dramatic as yours. Mom surely did it all–to perfection. My parents and in-laws are gone. Some siblings and sibling in laws gone now too. I did it all to perfection for a long time. Over-the-top Martha Stewart. Became the breadwinner. Grinding myself into the dirt. We’ve moved countries to save me from total burnout, and moved back again when missing kids and covid (brought nothing and had to start over again.) I still do a lot, but hubs has taken over a lot of it. The decorating and the shopping is done by him. I still cook, bake, and entertain too much, because everybody has some kind of food issue–so we can’t go out. But, I have definitely minimized what I am responsible for.

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