How I Ruined My Family’s Holiday Party

I am completely embarrassed to admit I’ve had meltdowns at my parents’ house during holiday get-togethers. Gatherings where my mom had gone all out to make everything perfect for her five grandchildren, and for us adults as well.

Last time it happened, I had reverted back to acting like I was five-years-old again, having a tantrum, or back to being in my teenage years when fighting with my parents was common. I pretty much stormed out of their party, thinking, ‘I am in my forties. I don’t have to be around this. What are my parents going to do? Ground me?’

So I left the party early and in a huff. Seething on the way home, I thought, ‘I need a six-month hiatus from my family after tonight.’ But then the guilt quickly hit and I knew I was in the wrong. Why couldn’t I keep my mouth shut?? My mother had been preparing for this gathering for weeks!

The issue I have with my mother is that, in her eyes, everything needs to be perfect. Her need for the perfect party and for everyone to have a perfect time drives me nuts because it feels like too much pressure. My mother had been reminding me about the party almost every day for weeks.

I’m not the only one who finds celebrating holidays with family stressful. How do people keep their mouths shut when another family member annoys them? I couldn’t even make it four hours without losing it, unfairly, on my mother. How do people do it for days?

Apparently, I’m not alone in reverting to acting like a spoiled child when it comes to holiday family gatherings.

According to this article in Popular Science, entitled, ‘Why Are Holidays With Your Family So Stressful?’ it reads, “Families also bring special forms of baggage. Even for the closest families, conflicts do happen, especially when people are confined to a limited space during family gatherings that last for days.”

“Because conflict is a normal part of relationships, the closer you are and the more you self-disclose, and the more you hear things you don’t like,” Pamela Regan, a psychology professor at California State University in Los Angeles, offered up. “…family members’ habits that may have been innocuous when you were all living under the same roof now seem intolerable….we snap back into old behavioural paradigms: I’ve seen this myself—grown siblings start to behave as if they’re eight years old..,” Regan adds. Yes, I reverted to acting like a child.

Holt and Rowan play fighting

I love my parents. I appreciate the fact that my parents had organized the evening, with a ton of food, games, and presents for everyone. Still, there’s a backstory. First, I was exhausted. I also had just got my period. Together, that made for the perfect emotional outburst. Plus, I had just spent two hours in a freezing hockey rink, watching my daughter’s team practice. I then had to race to carpool one of my daughter’s friends home, before heading home so my daughter and I could change, and I could pick up my five-year-old, so we could all go to my parents together. I was so anxious about getting there on time, for fear that we’d be late and that my mother would be upset, that I was already in full on panic mode.

The party was a lot of fun at first. We all were talking. I caught up with my siblings and their wives and children. We played numerous games of Bingo. The food was delicious and plentiful. But then…

My son started wrestling with his cousins. He started acting like a dog, going back and forth under the table, and, well, he was basically acting like a five-year-old. I wasn’t annoyed at my kid. I was annoyed at the reaction of my mother to how all the children were acting.

That night, I couldn’t help but think that maybe my mother forgot what five-year-olds are like. I had to hear every five seconds at the party, “Don’t fight there! You’re going to knock over the soup!” And, “Watch out for the marble checkerboard. No, you can’t touch that!” And, “Be careful! Stop moving the chairs!”

Granted, my parents live in a condo, which seems very small when you have five young grandchildren play fighting with each other and playing hide-and-go-seek or just tackling each other for fun. And they were having fun. So why the hell did I get so angry, after hearing for the 10th time how my son was misbehaving? Or at least that’s how my mother saw it. Or maybe that’s how I saw how my mother saw it. Or at least that’s how I felt.

I hit my breaking point after I heard my mother continually making demands on the children. It didn’t feel to me like a party anymore. It felt like everyone was being ‘schooled.’ I literally could not take it. So I exploded. “Why can’t you just let them have fun? If you don’t want young kids play fighting, why did you even invite us?” I spit out to my mother. “They’re kids! They’re having fun. Why can’t you just leave them? Or, if you are so worried about your furniture, then why not have the party in your party room!?”

Yes, my son wasn’t exactly behaving to my mother’s standards, but he wasn’t not behaving either by my standards.

Holt behaving!

But I know what the real problem is because my mother and I do share this one trait. We both have high expectations. I should have just realized that my mother had high expectations, so anything that didn’t go her way that night, would disappoint her. I’m like that too.

The article also does discuss expectations around family gatherings and arguments during the holidays. “So why do we get stressed about seeing family, and around the holidays in particular? Expectations are one of the biggest reasons—we watch Christmas specials or remember celebrating Thanksgiving as children and anticipate a Rockwellian experience, but, often, that’s simply not a reality. ‘We think this should be a perfect time, the food will be perfect, and our conversations will be respectful. But when our realities don’t match that, we get frustrated,'” says Terri Orbuch, a relationship expert and sociology professor at Oakland University.

After I lashed out, I got my coat, grabbed my son (at this point my father offered to drive my daughter home later) and my mother handed me an envelope, with tears in her eyes, that I shoved in my pocket. I knew – and know – she thought I ruined the party. And I did, at least momentarily, because I didn’t keep MY expectations in check.

My parents know that I’m the emotional one in the family, and if I’m in a mood, I can be like a hurricane leaving a path of destruction. I think there is probably one member in every family who is the super emotional one and who will break down, or lash out, over the holidays with their relatives.

I couldn’t help but yell, “Why do you do this to yourself? Just chill out! Relax!”

I could literally see my mother’s blood pressure rising, an issue that already worries me. Why couldn’t my mother just relax and chill out and watch her laughing grandchildren, even if they’re play fighting? Likewise, my mother was probably thinking that I’m raising wild animals, when the truth is, I don’t really care if my son is under the table.

According to the Popular Science article, it also says, “But for most of us with the typical amount of family baggage, going to the annual holiday dinner is a compromise worth making. The event might be vaguely unpleasant at the time, but you’ll still go because it’s important to someone important to you…”

I called my mother the following morning to apologize and tell her that the kids did have a great time (which they did.)  I AM indeed very sorry, Mom. I’m mortified at my child-like tantrum. Next year, I may just show up with duct tape, for myself. That is, if I’m even invited.




  1. Carla on December 20, 2017 at 11:03 am

    Thank you for your honesty. I too feel so much pressure at this time of year for everything to be perfect – a fact not helped by Pinterest or Instagram. At every corner there is a perfectly decorated house, a perfectly curated meal, perfect stocking stuffers to the tune of hundreds of dollars, and on and on. I wish everyone could take the holiday season down a notch. Again, I appreciated your article. Perspective, while elusive, is so important.

  2. jane on December 29, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Rebecca – the fact that you apologised does not mean that her Christmas was not wrecked. I have been that mother, trying to make everything perfect so that everyone is happy. Yes, children can be children and maybe your mother did not realise that – she’s older, right? She’s forgotten how children can behave.

    My daughter has also flounced out. Next year, there won’t be any temper tantrums. Christmas is cancelled. I’m not going to be home for temper tantrums.

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