Granny Witch on an unhurried Christmas

By Geneviève Hone

Where There Is A Family

There's always advice from Granny Witch

On an unhurried Christmas

'It's never too late to have a happy childhood'

December 2014

Hone, small image.

Dear Granny Witch

Your name came up at our family meeting two days ago. I very much would have wished you to be there in person to help us talk in a civilized manner.  

We were discussing what to do for Christmas. We are a blended family. I believe that is the current word to describe our situation. My husband and I were single parents, with one child each. We met, fell in love, married and within a semi-reasonable amount of time, had two more children. Generally, we all get along with one another, but things get complicated around Christmas because of an abundance of grandparents. Too many grandparents shouldn’t be a problem as such, but visiting them around Christmas has become a hassle. It’s mainly grandmas we are talking about here because in all our families, there remains only one grandfather, the others having passed away. All our grandmas are loving and loved. They have not at all been problematic old ladies who require high maintenance. Recently, however, one grandma has developed mobility problems, one is struggling to control high blood pressure, one has memory lapses that aren’t funny any longer and one is all over the place trying to find the man who will be elected to serve as her fourth husband. We honour all our grandmas, but I’m beginning to question if we really need to visit them all, right in the darkest days of winter. We live in Winnipeg, Granny Witch. Winnipeg, Canada.

It turns out that the older children want to spend time with their friends during the vacation while the younger children wish to travel to Disneyworld with all the grandmas and the one grandfather. My husband and I feel slightly guilty, but we are secretly dreaming of a Christmas vacation where we could stay put and actively and deliberately do nothing. But with four children under the age of 12, we well know that doing “nothing” is the ultimate impossible dream!

Anyway, the discussion progressed to a level where words like “stupid” and “don’t act like the idiot you are” started flying around the table. I became quite fed up and suddenly blurted out: “Actually, we should invite Granny Witch for Christmas dinner. She would knock some sense into us.” My suggestion was met with an astonished silence as no one had ever heard of Granny Witch. I explained who you are. Everybody relaxed upon learning that you were not “real” as nobody seemed ready to take in yet another granny! But to me, Granny Witch, you are very real and I’m asking for your help. The way things are going, Christmas will be a disaster, with some people feeling hurt or left out. Can you help?

Signed: Not in the Xmas mood, believe me!

Dear “Not in the Xmas mood, believe me”

  Image: Drawing, Décembre 2014, by Julien Mercure, courtesy of  Geneviève Hone.
  Décembre 2014, by Julien Mercure.

I will answer your call for help with two questions of my own! “Where do family rules actually come from?” And, “Has anybody asked the grandmas what they wish for at Christmas?” I’ll take the questions one at a time.
Where do family rules actually come from? For better and for worse, all families function according to rules that they have set up for themselves. In a healthy family system, rules are explicit, consistent and naturally based on the needs of the children and the adults in that family. Rules need to be flexible and should change as the family evolves. This is lovely in theory! But in the real world, all families harbour what I would call “walk-in” rules, rules that over the years have crept into the families’ life in such a stealthy manner that sometimes the families barely know that these rules exist! Often these rules started as good ideas, but those good ideas over time became traditions simply from being repeated so often. These traditions in turn became rules that nobody even thinks of questioning. You may know the story about the young woman who cuts a piece from the ham she’s preparing to bake. Why? Well because that’s how Mother cooked the ham. Why did Mother do it that way? Well, because, her mother did the same. Let’s ask Grandmother then. “Because,” Grandmother replies, “I had to cook large hams for our big family. A whole ham was too big for my baking pan, so I would cut off a piece to be able to fit it in.” An idea that became a tradition that became a rule!

So, dear “Not in the Xmas mood”, it may be time to review some of the rules in your family. You mention having family meetings — a great idea, by the way. Gather your family and have them make a list of your family “laws.” You may be surprised at the number and variety of these laws. Write them on a board for all to see and then ask yourselves if the “laws” are ideas, traditions or rules. Review and adjust a few of the rules as you wish. Now might be the occasion to check if visiting all the grandmas at Christmas has become an inflexible rule and if so, what you want to do about this.

This brings us to my second question: Has anyone asked the grandmas what they wish for at Christmas?”  Maybe the grandma with the mobility problems no longer has the energy to cook, bake and clean, but she’s timid about admitting so.  Maybe the grandma with the blood pressure problem is beginning to feel that Christmas visits just add to the pressure. Maybe the grandma with the memory lapses is afraid that she will forget something important and appear incompetent. And perhaps the grandma who’s searching for the man who will be chosen to be her fourth husband, has been invited by her boyfriend to travel at Christmas. She’s tempted to accept, but she is also afraid that the family will be terribly upset and even angry if she dares ask them to visit later, for instance on Valentine’s Day. Remember that grandmas have to deal with their own self-imposed “rules” concerning family, traditions and celebrations. They might actually need your help to define their current needs, face certain fears and give themselves permission to change, to try different things and set limits.  

Rules are often kept secret. You acknowledge that your husband and you “secretly” dream of doing nothing.  I have to ask: why is that a secret? Why should your children and extended families not know that you would like to do “nothing” at Christmas time? They might even help make this dream come true, perhaps if only for a day. A pyjama day! A day where food is brought in so nobody has to cook except to make a huge batch of popcorn to sustain you while you watch three movies in a row. An unhurried day filled with delightful nothings. Such joy! Perhaps the dream is not so unattainable after all.

Years ago, I saw a poster where it was written in childlike letters: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” That became my motto as I helped adults deal with the repercussions of traumatic events or abuse in their young years. Today I would add: “And it’s never too late to have an unhurried childhood, either.”

So, dear “Not in the Xmas Mood”, I wish you and your family, including the beautiful grandmas and the unique grandpa, a creative and unhurried vacation, with abundant time on your hands and love in your hearts!