Every year I struggle with Christmas, no matter how big my tree is, or how many times I listen to Mariah on a loop.
I know not everyone has the Richard Curtis version – a huge, gently bickering but generally happy family gathered around a perfectly decorated table – but most people seem to have some variation on that theme.
Maybe with slightly drunker uncles or a lot less snow.
But being estranged from a family member – in my case, my mother – means I always feel a bit left out in the cold.
I’ve been thinking about my mum recently and not just because of the pressure we heap on this time of year to be “all about family”.
I read about a study in which scientists found that the areas of women’s brains associated with emotional empathy lit up like a Christmas tree when they saw their grandchildren’s faces – the effect was even more than when they were looking at their own children.
The headline asked: “Could the grandmother-grandchild bond be the best of all?”
I winced, wondering if I’m depriving my daughter Blake of a really key relationship in her life.
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When I was growing up I only knew one grandparent (my mum’s mum; my dad’s parents died before I was born).
But I have happy memories of playing with Granny in her garden, her teaching me about foxgloves and frog spawn.
Grandparents are the ones who indulge you with endless sugar and stories.
The ones who aren’t weighed down by work, other kids, or trying to discipline you.
So I’m not surprised studies have also found that children who have engaged grandparents have fewer emotional problems and better grades.
Apparently, every shared year between grandparents and grandchildren increases a kid’s likelihood of completing secondary education by one percentage point.
I can’t help but feel sad when I hear about how close my friends’ kids are to their grandmas.
One mate even confessed to me that she feels jealous of her mother when she sees her five year old fling herself into her beloved granny’s embrace.
NOT KNOWING GRANDMA
There are a million different ways I grieve not having a relationship with my mum, and Blake not knowing her grandma is a big part of that.
I think about how nice it would be if my mum could tell me stories about what I was like at Blake’s age, if I could share the news that I’m engaged, if I could wrap her a present under the tree.
It’s not just the emotional side, though, it’s the logistics, too.
Having kids is very different when you have a mother who’s not only in your life, but willing to look after your children.
Forget the bank of mum and dad, the free childcare people get from their parents is the real unspoken privilege.
But then I remind myself why my mum isn’t in my life – she isn’t able to be the kind of mother I need or the kind of grandmother I’d want for Blake.
Instead I focus on what I do have.
Guy’s mum is an amazing grandmother and only lives a couple of hours’ away.
Blake also has a doting grandfather in my dad, not to mention an army of aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews, godparents and friends who spoil her rotten.
In this way, I’ve made my own family, just as I’ve created my own festive rituals – a glass of champagne in the bath on Christmas Eve, an afternoon tea with my oldest friends. It may not look like a TV advert, but it’s mine.
- Follow Kate on Instagram @katewillswrites.
This week I’m …
Ordering … Cook School
I love these recipe kits for kids and adults, with all profits helping teach schoolchildren to cook.
Watching … The Lost Daughter
Olivia Colman is just amazing in this movie adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s book.
Lusting after… Urban gift cards
If you need a last-minute gift, you can’t go wrong with a massage in their own home.
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