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Christmas Tree/Family Traditions Question: What would you do?


Jenny in Florida
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The Christmas tree has always been a big deal in our family. We use real trees, and the whole process of going out as a family to select a tree, then bringing it home to decorate has a ton of small traditions associated with it. Because our daughter's birthday falls in mid-December, we decided when she was little to delay putting up the tree until at least the day after her birthday so as to avoid having her day swallowed in the holidays, but we often purchased the tree and brought it home prior to that so that we would be ready to go the day after. Even while she was away at college, we managed to arrange things so that all four of us were here to do this together.

 

Two years ago, the first year she had moved out and was living 1,000 miles away, my husband had a hard time. He floated various plans, including buying a fake tree so that we could decorate while our daughter was home for Thanksgiving (because in Florida a real tree is dried to a crisp by shortly after Christmas, even if we delay putting it up until mid-December) and waiting to do it until she came home two days before Christmas. While I was wistful about not having her here, I wasn't as bereft about it as he was. We had plenty of warning that she would be moving, and it felt like a natural transition. In fact, when I had packed up the ornaments the previous year, I had made a point of separating out hers and packing them in their own box so she could take them with her when she moved. So, I insisted we forge ahead with the three of us on a weekend my son could get home from school.

 

This year, I am struggling. My son moved back "home" this past summer after two years on campus, because he is changing directions, educationally. As the year has progressed, he is here less and less. In some ways, this is much more difficult to navigate, emotionally, than having him just physically away on campus. He and his stuff are underfoot, but he is not physically here and awake and engaged often enough to actually function like a family member. In theory, I'm okay with that. I understand he is a young adult and that he is busy maintaining a relationship with his girlfriend (of almost a year and a half, now) and building a future.I also know that, after the craziness that was his schedule in September/October while he worked a nearly full-time job in addition to a more-than-full-time college load, he needs time and space to catch up on schoolwork. In practice, in my heart of hearts, I often find myself feeling hurt and sad at the things he seems to blow off or not even notice.

 

Examples:

 

He stayed over at his girlfriend's house for the three days surrounding my birthday. This should not have been a big deal, since I don't generally like it when people make a fuss over me and, in fact, I was scheduled to work from 11:00 am until 8:00 that day. I also often experience sadness/depression leading up to my birthday (have since I was a teenager), and I know it's difficult for my family to know how to handle that. Still, I was surprisingly hurt that he made plans to be away and didn't even mention it to me until the day before. On my actual birthday, I got a Facebook message from him wishing me a good day and promising that there were "things" coming up. I replied thanking him for the good wishes and assuring him I didn't need "things." He reiterated that he had plans for me, anyway. That was the last I heard about it.

 

He wasn't here to go to the airport to meet his sister/my daughter when she came home for Thanksgiving. He assured us that he would be at the house by the time we got back, but he didn't actually arrive until an hour or two later.

 

He made plans to go to his girlfriend's house Thanksgiving afternoon, which I knew about in a general sense. He did not discuss with me the actual time he wanted to be there, whch meant I ended up rushing getting our dinner on the table so we could eat before he left.

 

I had (relatively minor) surgery about 10 days ago. He knew it was scheduled. It was on our family calendar, and we (his dad, he and I) talked several times about the fact that I wanted to get the outdoor Christmas lights up before that date, because I knew I would be limited in my ability to do things for a week or more afterward. Once again, he made plans to stay over at his girlfriend's house for a couple of days, leaving the day before my scheduled procedure. I messaged him that afternoon to check on his schedule, then told him I loved him and would see him after I got home. He responded that he had forgotten I was going in, but hoped everything went well.

 

Although I ended up staying in the hospital an extra day, he still wasn't home when I got there.

 

I do want to be fair: There is a combination of factors that make it sensible for him to stay over at the girlfriend's house at least occasionally. Neither he nor she has a driver's license or vehicle, so they depend on public transportation, parental goodwill and Uber to get around town. His girlfriend, while wonderful in many ways, is also very needy and has come to depend on him in lots of ways. (For example, when her parents went out of town on short notice and left her to take care of the house and their two dogs, her parents actually asked my son to stay with her, because she wasn't comfortable being there alone.) In addition, she is a much better student than he is and is much more successful at making him do his homework,while he is good at helping her deal with her anxiety and perfectionism. So, sometimes it does objectively make sense for him to stay there for two or three days during the week so they can do their homework together and travel to and from campus more efficiently.

 

With that said (and I'm sorry this got so long), here's where we are now:

 

After once again staying over at his girlfriend's house for a couple of days, the two of them were here last night. They have been planning/prepping to attend a sci-fi convention out of town this weekend, and were here making their final preparations, tweaking costumes and packing up. I knew this and had agreed to have them here and drive them to the bus station this morning.

 

What I didn't know until I looked at the family calendar for something else a couple of days ago is that he will apparently not be coming back home for the week following the con. He has himself marked as being "at girlfriend's house" from Monday through the following weekend. I do remember him mentioning a couple of weeks ago that her parents were going out of town again and that he had agreed to stay there, and so I assume that is what this is about. However, I was never told actual dates.

 

They are also scheduled to attend a holiday event the evening of Saturday, December 17 (which is the same night as my work Christmas party). 

 

So, it turns out he will be gone for the weekends surrounding my daughter's birthday and the full week in between, leaving us with no good opportunity to buy and decorate our Christmas tree when he is around to participate. If we wait until he comes home, the tree will be up for less than a week before Christmas, which is later than we usually like to go. And, since the whole buying-putting on lights-decorating with the ornaments process takes at least a couple of days, I'm not sure where we would even fit it into our normal work-week schedule. (I work Sunday through Thursday -- including two evenings -- and my husband works Monday through Friday.) 

 

The reality of this hit me last night, and I felt so sad about it that I couldn't even figure out how to discuss it rationally with anyone, especially since my son had company (his girlfriend) and my husband did, too (his role playing gaming group).

 

I did mention it to my son before we left for the bus station this morning, trying to make it a matter-of-fact thing, like, "Hey, since you're not here for the next week and a half, Dad and I may have to do the tree without you." He seemed taken aback, but basically said, "Got it."

 

So, now I just don't know what to do. I want that tree up; I am having a very hard time getting my Christmas spirit on this year, and I believe decorating will help. But when I actually picture the concept of going through this process with just the two of us, it feels so sad. As I said, this is kind of a big deal for our family, with a million little traditions and a ton of emotional weight. Each person hangs his or her own ornaments -- the ones we've all made or purchased for each other over the years -- and we play Christmas music and share memories. I make personalized ornaments for each kid (although we did establish after our daughter moved out that the official "last one" is the year they move into their own place) and ceremoniously present that year's effort after all of the other ornaments are on the tree. 

 

So, what happens if our son isn't here? Do we just set aside his ornaments until he gets a chance to hang them next time he's around? Do we go ahead and hang them for him? 

 

I don't want to do anything to actively hurt my son's feelings, but I also recognize that, if he's not invested here, I can't put everything else I care about on hold while waiting around to see if he's going to make an appearance.

 

At this point, even if he did offer some kind of compromise (like scheduling an evening to come home during the week he's supposed to be at his girlfriend's house), I'm afraid it might put too much pressure on the whole thing. 

 

I'm stumped and sad and kind of hurt that he didn't do any of this math himself and even try to engage in making some kind of plan. 

 

My mantra for the last few months has been not to expect anything so that I'm not disappointed, but this one is hitting me hard.

 

What would you do?

Edited by Jenny in Florida
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I think it's a good time for you and your husband to decide on your plans. What do you guys want? The storybook isn't working, so write your own. Maybe go buy a fake tee, have a nice dinner out and decorate it when you get home. Just you guys. And then, enjoy it.

 

(And I say this gently, it sounds like it's time for him to move out. He wants to play at being an adult, it's time to actually be one. I'd give him 30 days notice. I think you need the emotional space and he needs to grow up.)

Edited by FriedClams
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I remember being that age very well. I also have kids that are transitioning to adulthood and navigating significant others.  Honestly, your feelings about Christmas and traditions probably aren't even on his radar.  When he does think about them, it is likely more a nostalgia kind of thing rather than a desire to keep them going.  It sounds like it is time for you and dh to come up with your own new traditions for Christmas.  

Whether it is this year or several years from now, this change is happening and things are going to be different.  Set aside his ornaments, so he can put them on the tree when he has a chance.  Put on some music, make some warm drinks, and have a nice evening with dh putting up the tree.  

 

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It sounds like it would be easier to call girlfriend and son and invite them over to decorate the tree. Get a firm date/commitment from both of them. You could get the tree with dh and put it up and lights on beforehand. If it's up later than you like keep it up longer. You can do this!  :grouphug:  :grouphug: :grouphug: 
 

 

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It sounds like your son doesn't take your feelings, plans, schedules, etc. into account. He's just living his life with no thought to how it affects the other people in your family, especially you. He may be taking you for granted, that you will work around his schedule and plans. He's also a young man and they don't always think through the details of how what they are doing fits in with the rest of what's going on. I have had to point blank tell my young man, "ok, if that's your plan, that's great, here's how it affects what we usually do as a family" or "That's great, when do you think you will do 'xyz' that you also want to do?" It takes them a while to figure out how they want to be in relationship and how life runs in general.

 

You probably need to be very specific in communicating with him. Ask him what traditions are important to him and that he wants to participate in. When he tells you, figure out how you can get it done with him. You may find that things aren't important to him or that he's just not thinking things through. Also, please tell him how he's made you feel with the surgery and birthday. He is an adult and if he wants to be in relationship with you, he deserves to know what's important to you. You two may have different expectations of how this relationship should go now. You're still the mom/provider in his eyes, so you do for him. You'd like a more adult relationship. You'll have to negotiate those waters as you transition. Your mantra is not going to work in relationships. It is not wrong to have expectations, it is wrong to not communicate them. Relationships are a two way street, but you guys have to figure out how to pave it together.

 

For the tree, work out a time with your husband, go get a tree and put it up. Ask your son if he would like you to put up his ornaments or let him do it when he is home again. FriedClams is right, it's time to figure out what this looks like from now on.

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I would invite him over on a specific evening BUT include his girlfriend.  They are obviously very serious.  Did she join you last year for this occasion?  If not, all the more reason to go out of your way to include her this year.  Send them an Uber and drive them back.  Have your evening together.  This is how you widen your family rather than narrowing it.

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I think it's a good time for you and your husband to decide on your plans. What do you guys want? The storybook isn't working, so write your own. Maybe go buy a fake tee, have a nice dinner out and decorate it when you get home. Just you guys. And then, enjoy it.

 

(And I say this gently, it sounds like it's time for him to move out. He wants to play at being an adult, it's time to actually be one. I'd give him 30 days notice. I think you need the emotional space and he needs to grow up.)

 

I agree. It sounds like you and dh will be just the two of you again soon anyway. Time to start some new traditions!

 

And even if it isn't possible for him to physically move out right now (I recall your previous posts), perhaps you can find ways to begin to mentally "move" him out? Change your expectations to more what they would be had he, like his sister, moved into his own place, even locally? E.g., don't expect him to be "around" on your birthday, but do expect a phone call or equivalent, at the least. Invite him to be there specifically if it's a special occasion (sister is visiting, please meet us for family dinner), and expect/ask for a commitment, just as you would for someone who wasn't living in the home.

 

I'm sure that's easier said than done, and I'm not saying that he doesn't owe it to you to act like a member of the household so long as he is one (I think he does). But since, for all intents and purposes, he's moved out a good part of the time anyway, it might make things easier on YOU if you can manage your expectations. I personally think giving him notice is a perfectly reasonable course of action, but if you want to continue to offer support by allowing him to live in your home, you may have to do it with the understanding that it requires more than just the tangible sacrifice on your part.

 

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It's really hard when they get older and some of the family traditions don't seem as deep to them as they feel to you.  :grouphug:  :grouphug:

 

Add on the young adult trying to strike that balance between being independent and being a family member. A lot fumbling happens at the expense of home.  :grouphug:  :grouphug:

 

I'm not sure what to say on how to handle it. For various reasons I haven't decorated at all and am contemplating not decorating anything. So, basically, I just wanted to say I was right there with you on being disappointed. 

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I have three kids between the ages of 18 and 23. Two of them attend college out-of-state so I understand being caught between traditions, the longing to have them back under the roof for special times, and the reality that they aren't around much and probably won't be in the future. I'm not even a huge holiday person, yet sometimes I feel wistful pangs of wishing them all back at my kitchen table decorating eggs or doing an Advent craft.

 

For what it's worth, if I were you I'd go out and buy that real tree today, crank up some festive music, pour a cup of cider, and start decorating!  Do what you need to help make yourself feel better about the holiday, and also to move forward in making new traditions that don't revolve around your grown children. I'd let son know that he and girlfriend are welcome to join you for decorating at the time you've settled on, but don't schedule it around them or pressure him. Ditto with other events--let them know they're welcome, then go with the attitude it's great if they can make it but life is going to happen even if they're not there.

 

As for your son and his girlfriend, honestly that sounds like pretty typical 20-something behavior. Increasingly their lives revolve more and more around their interests and less around home, parents, and siblings. I recently spent 5 days in the hospital and after the first few days didn't hear much from mine. At first it nagged at me, but then I gave myself a good talking to and reminded myself that after all these years of not wanting family to make a fuss about me when I was sick, I could hardly fault them for going along with my wishes. Ditto with birthdays. 

 

Hugs to you. :grouphug: It's really hard letting go of sons and mentally converting "our traditions" into "memories", but I think you'll feel better once you've started moving forward in establishing some new ones. 

 

 

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He is a young adult who is in a romantic relationship that seems serious. All of what he's doing seem extremely normal to me. He is prioritizing his independent life over the life he has with his birth family. That is incredibly normal at his phase of life. I'm the youngest of 7 and watched every single older sibling seemingly disappear for a few years in their young adulthood. They were around quite rarely and I missed them so much. But once they established their independent lives and decided what was important to them they started showing up again. I even did it when I was in college and living at home. There were 4 people living at home but I never saw them we were more like roommates. Most of the time they didn't even know where I was unless I'd be traveling. I was constantly working, in school, or spending time with dh who I was dating at the time.

 

Now as established adults all my siblings who are local have dinner together at my parents' at least once a week sometimes twice. We still all get together the week before Christmas to get the tree, decorate it, and make ornaments.

 

I think he is making it very clear by his actions that he wants a roommate type relationship currently. So if I were you I'd plan to do the tree when you and dh van do it. I wouldn't hang his ornaments since they are his. I'd leave them in a box and let him know when he gets home where they are if he wants to hang them.

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For me, this would be the time to develop new traditions that can transition to a completely empty nest.

I had a very hard time with DD leaving for college two years ago and have in the mean time changed my outlook and expectations more towards a life centering on DH and me as a couple. Anything the kids participate in is a bonus, but I don't expect them to, even though DS still lives at home. I go ahead with the things I want to do and am happy to include them, but no longer make my plans depend on them.

 

I also set clear expectations and communicate directly with my DS, not via a calendar. We speak about our schedules face to face; I ask whether he will be home for meals, etc. That means, we could have had a clear conversation about occasions that are important to me. From what you describe, your DS behaves like a typical young adult. He is a bit thoughtless and self absorbed. If you want him to come pick up his sister, or definitely be at home the minute she arrives, or be available on a certain day to get the tree, you need to tell him directly in advance: "Hey, I would like you to be with us when we get the tree on December 17. Will you be able to make it? Will gf join us? It would mean a lot to me if you came." he may still have plans - but you have told him explicitly what your feelings and expectations are. Telling him late "I guess we will have to go without you" comes across as passive aggressive. You don't want him to come because he feels guilty.

 

Best wishes figuring out the new normal. This is hard.

Edited by regentrude
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Two of our kids live at least 800 miles from us so we rarely get together for holidays. But the ones who live here...under our roof, even though they are adults, are pretty much expected to try to make family events work. Not weekly meals or anything, but the biggies like T'giving dinner, birthday dinners,  and a few Christmas traditions. I think it's reasonable, and if they can't make it but have a reason (work, etc.) that's understandable.  

 

I think your son could reasonably give up half a weekend day to come over and do the tree.  I know girlfriend lives way across town but he could still make it happen. 

 

Your feelings seem reasonable...he's blowing off one thing after another and it hurts. If you don't tell him how you really feel, he's going to get the message that it's ok and it will be the new normal. 

 

Yeah, I get that adult kids have their own lives and all, but you're not asking for the moon.  Family traditions will change when kids marry and move away but he's not quite there yet. 

 

Hope you can have a family tree day this year. It's hard adjusting to kids growing up.

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This is obviously about more than the tree.

 

I find it enormously difficult to live with my son when he comes home for the summer for reasons very similar to what you're describing.  I think the problem is that I am expecting one thing (a certain amount of engagement with the family, for example) and he thinks that being an "adult" means that he can do whatever he wants.  He isn't doing anything atrocious--he just doesn't think about how his actions are going to affect the family dynamic or schedule or whatever.

 

The thing that worked best (and I hasten to add that it didn't work at all perfectly) was to sit him down and tell him what our expectations were right at the beginning of the summer.  We made sure that the list was limited to those things that really impacted the family and did not include things that were merely annoying.  And we did have consequences for failing to conform to our expectations.  Those consequences were limited to things that we had control over--like his use of our car.

 

I think it would be reasonable for you and your husband to figure out exactly what your expectations are for your son as a member of your household--that he is a member of a family and not merely a housemate.  Is it possible that your son has no clue how his actions are affecting everyone?  

 

As for the tree--I really think you need to develop another tradition that does not require particular family members to be there, one that can incorporate whoever is there at the time or not as necessary.  And this year might be a good time to try that out.

 

Hugs to you.  I know it's hard.

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I would just plan to put up the tree when it was convenient. I would let ds & his gf know & invite them but not make them feel like they have to come. In fact I'd say "you don't have to come - just if you want to" 

& I WOULD start to think of him as a housemate. I have an adult kid who due to high cost of housing & logistics is living here & I've also *been* that kid.  You really have to re-draw that boundary & reduce your expectations.  Invite him to events but make it clear he can say no or build his own new traditions. It's time to let them go - and sometimes that's harder when they're there physically in your space but you still have to let them go. 

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It sounds like transitioning young adults, and sounds pretty normal (even if it's hard).  I'd certainly be disappointed though that he didn't remember or fulfill prior commitments, sure.  At the same time, he is still at that age when the world revolves arounds him.  (I'm sure I did plenty of things that seemed self-centered to my parents at that age.)

 

I would continue with traditions that you want to keep, but just plan on having it be you and your husband.  If your son or daughter can make it, fine.  If they can't, fine.  So decorate the tree and put up his ornaments and be done with it and enjoy the season.  You can let him know ahead of time what night you're doing it, in case he wants to join you.

 

Eventually he'll realize that you're continuing with things as usual, and that it's up to him to make more of an effort.  Which he might not do for awhile because he is fully in love and doing his own thing right now.

 

It takes awhile to find a new groove, but it will happen.  You can start a new tradition that's maybe easier for him too -- meet at a restaurant halfway between the two homes (yours and his GF's) for a Christmas luncheon, for example.  Whatever you do, don't STOP trying with your son.  For a long time, it might be you who has to make the effort, all the time.  And it can feel very tiresome after awhile.  But this is what my father did for me, and in hindsite, I appreciate it so, so much.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate it now!!

 

Thanks, Dad!  For not giving up on me.   :)

 

 

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I would invite him over on a specific evening BUT include his girlfriend. They are obviously very serious. Did she join you last year for this occasion? If not, all the more reason to go out of your way to include her this year. Send them an Uber and drive them back. Have your evening together. This is how you widen your family rather than narrowing it.

This. Include her, pull her in and include her in the traditions. Pick a night when the rest of you can do it, and send son and GF an invite. If they can make it,wonderful!

 

I'm sorry it's hard.

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While I normally have no issue including his girlfriend, I just really don't want to this time. For one thing, I'm still feeling a bit wiped out from the surgery and exhausted by the idea of returning to work tomorrow, and I'm just not up to playing hostess. She's great, and I love her, but the dynamic is just different when she here, and I don't have the emotional or physical energy to handle it right now.

 

Also, for those saying I need to tell him how I'm feeling and what the expectations are, please know that both my husband and I have had those conversations with our son seperately on more than one occasion. Our son consistently says that he wants to continue to be familial, that he plans to make spending time with us more of a priority, etc.

 

In fact, my husband had an extended conversation about these very issues just a few days ago, making it clear how hurt I was by some of our son's recent choices. At that point, he told our son clearly that it was absolutely fine for him to choose to become a roommate, but that would come with its own expectations (including taking on his share of household chores and potentially paying at least a token amount of rent). Our son reconfirmed that is not what he wants, that he does want to be included in family stuff, that he has just been so busy getting his act together and getting caught up from September/October . . .

 

Then he decided to go away for a week and a half without telling us.

 

About 30 minutes ago, a Facebook message from him popped up. For a second or two, I hoped it might be him letting me know he had thought about what I said this morning and wanted to talk about scheduling time to do the tree.

 

Instead, he was asking for money,

 

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I think that you need to set some boundaries.  Being familial doesn't mean taking advantage of people.  You were more than gracious in how much you extended yourself earlier with transportation.  I never got the impression that he really appreciated all that went into that.  Now what you are saying about his words vs. his actions seems to underline the fact that he's taking advantage.  I would say no to the money request.  I know that it is hard esp. at this time but setting boundaries now will actually help him in the long run. 

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While I normally have no issue including his girlfriend, I just really don't want to this time. For one thing, I'm still feeling a bit wiped out from the surgery and exhausted by the idea of returning to work tomorrow, and I'm just not up to playing hostess. She's great, and I love her, but the dynamic is just different when she here, and I don't have the emotional or physical energy to handle it right now.

 

He's not behaving well, no question about it, but the fact is, at this point she has become 'family' to him, at least for now (yes, I know exactly how annoyingly contradictory that sounds; I have a 20 year old myself.).  So if you want to have 'family' traditions, I think you are going to have to BOTH insist strongly on his participation in the ones you think are most important AND include her in them warmly.  I know it's not so easy, but I do think it's the only way.  ((((Jenny))))

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I would invite him over on a specific evening BUT include his girlfriend.  They are obviously very serious.  Did she join you last year for this occasion?  If not, all the more reason to go out of your way to include her this year.  Send them an Uber and drive them back.  Have your evening together.  This is how you widen your family rather than narrowing it.

 

Agreed. Or just him, if you want. But there is no reason he can't come back one evening to decorate the tree, have some eggnog, and eat cookies. None. He's not out of the country,he's in town at his girlfriend's house. 

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I would try as much as possible to separate out two issues.  One of the issues would be under what terms I am willing to let an adult child live at home.  What are the expectations of handling money, chores, letting those know when you will be late getting home, etc.

 

The second issue would be how to handle adult children in family activities and traditions.  I have a cousin who has four adult sons (three of whom are now married); I have watched closely as I have admired how she has handled her sons growing up and the relationship she has with her daughters-in-law.  The family has many strong traditions.  The girlfriends were always warmly welcomed; my cousin did not put on a hostess role but just continued what she was doing anyway with one more seat at the table.  She has also always welcomed the parents, and other family members, of the girlfriends/wives. She has tried as much as possible not to make her sons feel guilty when they spend a holiday with a spouse's family instead. She has made some adjustments in her family traditions when it helps promote good relationships within the family; traditions that are important to her she continues without insisting that her sons participate.  I hope i will be able to negotiate these issues as well as she has.

 

If I felt I wasn't up to including the girlfriend in activities this year, I think I would take an approach that DH and I were having a low-key, low-stress, quiet celebration without expecting DS would want to be included. 

 

 

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I will say, for the future, I think doing the fake tree so you can do it when the DD is home for thanksgiving is a good idea. OR...we get out tree the day before thanksgiving at Santa's Christmas Tree Forest. The trees there are shipped in refrigerated cars, and they keep them in water, and they last for us until Christmas. Not till New Years always, but until Christmas for sure. 

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I have a cousin who has four adult sons (three of whom are now married); I have watched closely as I have admired how she has handled her sons growing up and the relationship she has with her daughters-in-law.  The family has many strong traditions.  The girlfriends were always warmly welcomed; my cousin did not put on a hostess role but just continued what she was doing anyway with one more seat at the table.  She has also always welcomed the parents, and other family members, of the girlfriends/wives. She has tried as much as possible not to make her sons feel guilty when they spend a holiday with a spouse's family instead. She has made some adjustments in her family traditions when it helps promote good relationships within the family; traditions that are important to her she continues without insisting that her sons participate.  I hope i will be able to negotiate these issues as well as she has.

 

If I felt I wasn't up to including the girlfriend in activities this year, I think I would take an approach that DH and I were having a low-key, low-stress, quiet celebration without expecting DS would want to be included. 

 

I think there are people for whom that kind of widening of the circle comes naturally. I don't happen to be one of them. I am strongly introverted and sometimes find having my own husband two kids around to be tiring. Although both of my kids have friends whom we consider "my other children" and whom we've had around for celebrations and events big and small for many years, it's always, always effort for me to bring someone into the house.

 

It's a variety of things that make this so, everything right down to the fact that my dog cannot be relied on not to bark and nip at non-family members, even those she's known for years.

 

Most of the time, I'm more than happy to make the effort. I simply don't have it in me this year.

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One other thing I would try to do is think about whether there is a Christmas family tradition that he particularly enjoys or finds special.  I would try to focus on having that activity at a time that I know would be convenient for him.  Or, I would try to think of a way to include him (and girlfriend) in a way that he feels like he is being included more as an adult:  perhaps, could you and Sally take care of hanging the outside lights for Dad and me this year given that I am recovering from surgery? or I always enjoyed making XYZ cookies for our tree decorating event, do you think you and Sally could bake one of her favorite cookies to include this year? (giving them a responsibility in an area that their interests might lie.)

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With the additional information you've provided, I think gently, I would not push him.

 

I think it would be a mistake to make him to choose being with you or her.   I think if your home is for whatever reason not super welcoming for her, then I think it's natural that he's out a lot. (i'm not saying this as a fault - just stating a fact. I can imagine the same exact result if say she had bad allergies and couldn't come to your home even if you were up to it & other circumstances permitted.) 

Do the tree yourself. Make the effort to meet up with them in other places for a coffee or a lunch. Sure have a talk about money & chores etc but don't expect him to be home as much. 

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I would forge ahead with new traditions

I would announce what time dinner is - that's when it is.  if it doesn't fit someone's schedule - they can say something and adjustments could be made ahead of time - not same day.  the turkey is done when it is.)   tbh: making the cook change their cooking plans on the spur of the moment is discourteous.

 

let him know when you want to decorate the tree.  if it works for him - great.  if he suggests a different time -fine.  if he doesn't say anything and isn't there when you decorate - that's his choice.

 

I have two who own their own homes - one in another state and will not be here.  the other two who are out, live close enough.

 

I decorate my own tree.  it's not exciting to the two who live at home -and the others are too busy.,

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I would invite him over on a specific evening BUT include his girlfriend. They are obviously very serious. Did she join you last year for this occasion? If not, all the more reason to go out of your way to include her this year. Send them an Uber and drive them back. Have your evening together. This is how you widen your family rather than narrowing it.

This is what I would do. Invite them for dinner and decorate the tree. Then they can go back to her family's house.

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While I normally have no issue including his girlfriend, I just really don't want to this time. For one thing, I'm still feeling a bit wiped out from the surgery and exhausted by the idea of returning to work tomorrow, and I'm just not up to playing hostess. She's great, and I love her, but the dynamic is just different when she here, and I don't have the emotional or physical energy to handle it right now.

 

Also, for those saying I need to tell him how I'm feeling and what the expectations are, please know that both my husband and I have had those conversations with our son seperately on more than one occasion. Our son consistently says that he wants to continue to be familial, that he plans to make spending time with us more of a priority, etc.

 

In fact, my husband had an extended conversation about these very issues just a few days ago, making it clear how hurt I was by some of our son's recent choices. At that point, he told our son clearly that it was absolutely fine for him to choose to become a roommate, but that would come with its own expectations (including taking on his share of household chores and potentially paying at least a token amount of rent). Our son reconfirmed that is not what he wants, that he does want to be included in family stuff, that he has just been so busy getting his act together and getting caught up from September/October . . .

 

Then he decided to go away for a week and a half without telling us.

 

About 30 minutes ago, a Facebook message from him popped up. For a second or two, I hoped it might be him letting me know he had thought about what I said this morning and wanted to talk about scheduling time to do the tree.

 

Instead, he was asking for money,

I didn't see this before I seconded the invite them both over option.

 

If you aren't up for it, you aren't up for it. That's ok. Do the tree the day you want.

 

I think also that doing 1/3 of the chores is part of living there at all, as a roommate, as a family member, whatever. What he seems to be doing is not uncommon for his age but that doesn't make it something you have to deal with.

 

I probably would not give him money for an impromptu request. You seem to be covering all of his school and educational costs and went to great lengths to provide him transportation recently. He's working and while I understand you have been supportive of him saving most of that money, he should handle incidentals on his own.

 

I think the purpose of charging him nominal rent and expecting more help around the house shouldn't be tinged as retaliation for not being there and being considerate. It's really mostly about helping him learn to budget for the costs of life.

 

You've done a lot and I agree that setting boundaries is a good idea.

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I'd buy a special ornament for girlfriend and go on with getting the tree decorated with just lights and garland.  I'd let son know about the ornament and ask him to find a time when son and girlfriend are free (and I wouldn't force it if they truly are overscheduled, which happens easily at this time of year).  If you can find a time, great!  Invite her to the tree-decorating tradition, and give her your little gift.  If they can't make it, just decorate the tree without them, but save girlfriend's ornament and one or two sentimental ornaments for son to hang for when they visit.  That will give you a special reason to intentionally look at the tree together and bond over the popsicle-stick-santa that he made when he was 3.

 

ETA: I missed your update too - skip the invitation to gf, if you can't do it with joy.  There is nothing more awkward than attending family events as an outsider.

 

Edited by Plink
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I want to emphasize that, until fairly recently, they have actually spent quite a bit of time here. It's not that we are "not welcoming" to his girlfriend. I, in particular, get along with her quite well (so much so that my son jokes about being afraid to leave the two of us alone together for fear of what we might disclose to each other about him). She was here with us the day after Thanksgiving. She was here with us last year the day after Christmas (because her own family wanted her there the day of, in each case). 

 

Although I do genuinely love this girl, she is, frankly, tiring. Like my own daughter, she has some emotional issues and quirks that make her sometimes a chore to have around. And, because my son feels responsible for her, when she does need to withdraw (which she is welcome to do without judgment), he goes with her. 

 

And, yes, of course I had no intention of asking my son to choose between her and us, even for an evening. Not only do I know perfectly well how that would turn out, but I truly have no wish to hurt feelings, either his or hers.

 

I'm just sad because things he always seemed to treasure suddenly don't matter, and I feel left behind. (Did I mention how I've discussed with my son how very sad I am this year not to have any opportunity to see/hear either of my offspring perform in any holiday-related performaces, for the first time in a good 15 years? Did I then mention how he left last Saturday morning telling me he was "going to" the holiday recital of his former dance school, then stayed out all day and well into the evening, then came home and told me he had actually danced in the show without feeling it might have been a kindness to let me know?)

 

Basically, at this point, I have come to the realization that, no matter what choices we make, this will suck.

 

We could (wouldn't, but theoretically could) invite him without her and have him either turn us down or come out of sense of obligation but feel resentful.

 

We could invite both of them together, have them show up because they feel obligated, and prepare for him to be not terribly involved and for the dog to bark and for me to be exhausted and stressed and for no one to have a good time.

 

(There is, of course, the possibility that we could do either of the above and have things work out fine, but that is not how things are trending these days.)

 

We could forge ahead without him and have me miserable because I miss having him here.

 

After discussion with my husband, we decided it's probably best to just get it over with so I/we can stop focusing on the inevitable suckitude.

 

We went out and bought the tree this evening.

 

 

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He seems to be wanting to pull away to independence. You seem to be wanting to pull him back into the family that once was.  I think that telling him how sad you are about things is going to backfire as it may appear to be a bit manipulative.  I'm not saying that you are being that way but I know that kids eager to forge their own way are most likely going to view it that way.  Would it help perhaps to find someone to talk to face-to-face about all of these changes and your feelings?  ((Hugs))

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He seems to be wanting to pull away to independence. You seem to be wanting to pull him back into the family that once was.  I think that telling him how sad you are about things is going to backfire as it may appear to be a bit manipulative.  I'm not saying that you are being that way but I know that kids eager to forge their own way are most likely going to view it that way.  Would it help perhaps to find someone to talk to face-to-face about all of these changes and your feelings?  ((Hugs))

 

I mostly agree with this, but with some caveats. In this particular case, the son in question wants to be independent when it suits, but doesn't have his own transportation or license, doesn't pay his own way, expects mom to shuttle him around, pay his bills, do his laundry, and send him money. 

 

That's not independent. That's dependent. If he is going to depend on others he needs to show some compassion and respect for those people. 

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And even if it isn't possible for him to physically move out right now (I recall your previous posts), perhaps you can find ways to begin to mentally "move" him out? 

 

 

Hence my "If I don't expect anything, I can never be disappointed" mantra.

 

I just still manage to be surprised and hurt by exactly how far out of his way he seems willing to go to make sure I keep being wrong.

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I can see myself in you. I have a hard time reframing, and a hard time letting go.

Last year, I felt all kinds of resentment for my son coming here from out of town and spending so much time with his friend. 

I can say, happily, that I don't give a crap this year. 

(Oops, perhaps that is a bit strong.) 

 

You have a lot of very positive memories associated with your Christmas tradition. It is part of your family identity. That is a really, really strong thing to let go of! You sound like you are in mourning. That should be honored, Jenny. I'm sorry to say, but I think you just need to feel it so you can get beyond it. I love what Sadie said about Sadness. Even so, it is good to see that positive things are coming. 

 

You didn't ask about this, but I'll share anyway--lol--at the risk of sounding a little judge-y on your son. He needs to start manning up a bit. Either work harder to earn more, or live within his current means. I would be starting to charge rent. We charge our son a minimum (he's got some special needs but has a good job and is fully capable of living on his own), and he is finally moving out in July. He has been able to save a lot. He splurges at Christmas for us, but also helps around the house and occasionally provides dinner (and a movie, or takes us out to one). He doesn't have energy to interact much after work, doesn't eat with us much anymore, but is more than a roommate. I could see your son wanting to say he wants to be familial, but wanting more freedom. It is prob scary for HIM to say he doesn't want to be part of the family, because that is part of HIS identity!! IMO, he can be part of the family and still come and go, but he should have common courtesy and inform you of long absences in advance.

 

I also think you need to talk about your calendar--have a weekly meeting. You could just say something like, "I know you are saying you want to spend time with the family, but I need you to be more specific and tell me what events you can make and what you can't, so I can plan and have peace about this stage of our family life, so what do you think about meeting every week on (Saturday, an evening, a specific time, whatever), either by Skype or face to face, and making sure we are all on the same page?"

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Hence my "If I don't expect anything, I can never be disappointed" mantra.

 

I just still manage to be surprised and hurt by exactly how far out of his way he seems willing to go to make sure I keep being wrong.

 

 

When I first started reading this thread I was thinking normal, young adult male behavior. Many do go through a self-absorbed stage and pull away as life revolves more around girlfriend and less around home. Plus it's common for them not to give a rip about taking part in decorating the Christmas tree. But can I say gently that what's being described here seems more like emotional manipulation to me. Saying he'll take part in important family times, but not following through. Not bothering to tell you about a dance performance, when you'd clearly expressed how much you missed those, and then telling you about his participation after the fact. My kids are involved in the arts and I know how it feels when life is full of music and dance and then suddenly it's not. I would have been absolutely devastated had one of my kids pulled that stunt. It's no wonder you're grieving.

 

For what it's worth, I saw something along these lines play out with extended family members. I will say that the son was finely tuned into what was important to mom/family, and responded accordingly. The more mom expressed her wishes/needs/expectations, the more son pushed back. It was very hurtful, and very damaging to family relationships. Please take care of yourself and be gentle on yourself. You already know you can't control the attitudes and actions of a grown son, but you can set boundaries. You can push the reset button from no matter what choices we make, this will suck, to creating new routines and traditions that work for you this life stage. 

 

Hugs to you. I have friends that moved into the empty nest stage with ease and happily embraced life without the kids around. I'm not one of those moms. As that day approaches for me, I find I keep having to push the mental reset button, and then dust myself off in order to move forward again in a healthy way. It's not the same, but it can be good.

Edited by Pippen
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We are going through this ourselves. Not as far along as you, as only one child is in her freshman year at college.

We are changing our traditions to fit the family that is home. Youngest put up the Christmas tree alone - I helped. 

This will probably be our new temporary tradition.

Because life goes on, and although it is sad to say goodbye to the long standing traditions, I'm happy and glad that my oldest is succeeding in college life - has friends and is learning to be independent. Because that is what is right. But, yes, I'm also sad, because we do miss her. 

But life goes on, and next year will be even more changes, I'm sure.

So, we do what works for us at home. 

 

Best of luck to you in finding a new way. 

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I agree with so much on here (and hope I do still next year with my oldest away from home!) :)

 

This year he's been pulling away, though.  I've found it easier to set a calendar - if he'd like to be there for the event, great, if not, we're still doing it.  That way he always knows he's invited and welcomed and the choice is all on him.  We missed him this weekend for our annual shopping and the parade, hopefully we get him next weekend for seeing the Christmas lights and Griswold movie night. 

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I'd start a new tradition, either with yourself and your husband, or with your DD when she's home. Let your son know when you'll be decorating the tree and that you'd love to have him, but no pressure. If you're not up to having the gf, then don't, but if you can possibly muster up the energy to have her too, that might be nice for all of you.

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Hence my "If I don't expect anything, I can never be disappointed" mantra.

:grouphug:

 

I see myself in your son.  I completely understand the "sincerely promising to do better" - and really, truly meaning it down to the bottom of my heart - and then returning right back to the thoughtless behavior.  Over and over and over.  For me it was a combination of really wanting to do better but lacking both the skills and the motivation to do better (but at the time I was unaware I lacked the skills - I thought it was just a lack of motivation thing).  And I did best for people who had *clear*, *firm*, *straightforward*, *reasonable* expectations - people who made it clear what they expected from me *and* set out a clear path to achieve those expectations *and* provided both encouragement and accountability.  I did the absolute worst with people who stood back and accepted whatever I could do on my own.  I just didn't have either the motivation or skills to "go above and beyond" in turning things around myself, and I prioritized the people who both made it clear that my actions or lack of actions *mattered*, and who made acting *doable*.  (People who made it clear that my actions mattered but didn't make the path for acting doable - them I avoided like the plague once I started failing them.  People who never seemed visibly upset with me for my failures were restful to be around but I never did stop failing them - usually I sort of took that as subconscious permission to quit trying to not fail them.)

 

 

I just still manage to be surprised and hurt by exactly how far out of his way he seems willing to go to make sure I keep being wrong.

My mom sometimes assumed that my failing to do something she'd asked me to do was because I *refused* to do it *on purpose* in order to hurt her.  But honestly it *never* was that, not ever.  I don't remember *ever* purposefully refraining from doing something she really wanted me to do in order to hurt her.   She always assumed that since what she wanted me to do was simple (generally true) and that she'd made her expectation/desire clear (also true), the only reason I didn't do it was because I didn't *want* to show her love.  But that wasn't true at all.  It *was* true that my desire to show her love wasn't strong enough to overcome my lack of motivation/skills :( - but my *failing* to act was totally, utterly different than *refusing* to act.  I *wanted* to show her love - but wanting it just wasn't enough to be able to make it happen :(.  And I hated myself for it - that I was hurting others - and that I wanted to change, but not enough to, you know, actually *change* :(.  But I never did it on purpose - I just didn't *not* do it on purpose :(. 

 

It felt like I had a zillion things on my plate, and self-centered me did the ones I liked the best and the ones that were the easiest and the ones where the consequences for failure were intolerably high.  (Except that my cut-off point for "intolerably high consequences for failure" kept sliding up - I could tolerate more and more serious consequences if it meant I didn't have to do that thing that loomed so high.)  And I was a procrastinator - on things I didn't do I rarely intended to not do it from the start, but just kept postponing the starting until the deadline was past. 

 

All that to say - he *says* he wants to be with you and do these things with you, and I'd accept that at face value as being sincere.  But his actions say that he is unable/unwilling to make that happen on his own, and I'd accept that at face value, too.  But when I was in his shoes - wanting to be better but unable/unwilling to make it happen on my own - I avoided the people who made failure too costly (so I didn't have to face the consequences of my failure), and I enjoyed being with people who placed zero expectations on me (can't get easier than that) but that just enabled my self-centered thoughtlessness.  But the people I valued the most, who made the most difference - were the ones who were had expectations, but who made *succeeding* at them *doable*.  They didn't excuse failure but they didn't make the cost of failure too high, either - and most importantly, they provided not just clear expectations but a clear *path* to achieving those expectations.  (In the best cases, walking the path they laid out built in me the skills to be able to later meet those expectations without scaffolding.)  I actually *changed* because of them.

 

IDK, that sort of expectation scaffolding is hard work.  But I get being that young adult who hates that they are taking the easier, selfish path and desperately wants to be better, yet can't/won't stop taking the easier selfish path when it's available :(.  For me, I do the *worst* when there are no overt expectations, when people act like it makes no difference to them whether I do good or just slack off - it's like "permission" to be selfish, because if what I do makes no real difference either way, then why *not* take the easy path?  (And this co-existed with my very strong drive for achievement until I could no longer achieve at high levels *while* being on the easy path.  My dad, when faced with this choice in college, decided to get off the easy path, work hard and achieve.  I decided to avoid choosing, and drove myself into a depression over it, which pretty much killed achievement.) 

 

IDK, all that to say, I see some of myself in what you've written of your son.  He wants to do better but can't/won't.  In some ways, he doesn't do any better than he "needs to", at least when it comes to family life.  And the less expectations that are explicitly placed on him, the less he "needs" to do, and so the less he does.  It doesn't sound like he likes that reality any more than you do, but he's unable/unwilling to change on his own - not till he *needs* to change.  I didn't do well with high-pressure "need to change" situations - because it wasn't *just* a motivation issue with me, but also an executive function issue.  (I didn't realize I was mediocre at many EF skills till my 30s, because my general ability and very good memory made up for my so-so organization/planning/execution skills.)  But low-but-consistent "needs to change" expectations combined with a clear *path* to meeting those expectations - that's *exactly* what I needed.

 

ETA:  Speaking explicitly of Christmas traditions, my mom also gave us a special ornament each year, and every year we'd put them up in order, retelling the stories behind them :).  It was so special and wonderful, and it pains me so much that I haven't passed it on with my kids :(.  Mom used to give the kids special ornaments, but after one too many years of her coming to visit in June and seeing a pile of un-put-away ornaments in the basement, she figured that giving ornaments caused more trouble than they were worth, and so quit giving them :(.  I'm pretty sure she was sad that I didn't value that tradition :(.  But that wasn't it at all.  I can't *manage* that tradition, but I *love* and value that tradition so much - I have so many fond memories of it, and the kids love remembering with the ornaments they have.  And I'd be so *happy* if there were someone who could help me make that tradition happen again.

Edited by forty-two
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*snip*

 

I'm just sad because things he always seemed to treasure suddenly don't matter, and I feel left behind. (Did I mention how I've discussed with my son how very sad I am this year not to have any opportunity to see/hear either of my offspring perform in any holiday-related performaces, for the first time in a good 15 years? Did I then mention how he left last Saturday morning telling me he was "going to" the holiday recital of his former dance school, then stayed out all day and well into the evening, then came home and told me he had actually danced in the show without feeling it might have been a kindness to let me know?)

 

*snip*

 

My oldest is a teen so I have no btdt experience, but my husband went through something very similar with his mother - right down to the cutting down & decorating a tree issue.

 

Not wanting to continue the tree tradition with you does not mean that it doesn't matter to him. The tree thing was huge in my husband's family growing up, but he hit young adult and no longer wanted to do it with his parents. Not because he didn't treasure those moments, but because he felt like that was a childhood tradition and his childhood was over. It was very hurtful to his mother who was already grieving her empty nest pretty hard. But to this day, dh always talks about that Christmas tree tradition and how wonderful it was. And he has made sure that we've continued that tradition in our own family with our own children. Yes, he treasured it, but he needed to transition from being the child decorating his parents' tree to being the parent decorating his own tree. 

 

So don't think any of this means he doesn't value your family or the childhood traditions. This is just a really hard transition for everyone. And guys of a certain age can be a little clueless and self-centered. Forge ahead with some new traditions, find someone supportive that you can vent to, and let yourself grieve. But don't think your son doesn't value you or your family or your traditions, because I'm sure that he does.

Edited by MinivanMom
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 <snip> Our son consistently says that he wants to continue to be familial, that he plans to make spending time with us more of a priority, etc.

 

 

<snip> Then he decided to go away for a week and a half without telling us.

 

 

 

Along with all of the other emotional aspects, I really think that general vs specific might be a big part of the problem here. 

 

Son says he wants to do fun family things. I think he means it, but this does not translate into him thinking ahead and planning these things or working them into his schedule. I wouldn't expect him to take the lead in this - time doesn't flow for young adults the way it does for us, kwim? I would just let him know what was planned and which things were important to me.

 

"Son, we all have a busy month, but it's important to me that we get together and decorate the tree. Can we look at the calendar right now and make that happen?" 

 

"There are two extended family gatherings, one of the 17th and one on the 30th. I know you might not be able to make both, but you really need to show up for at least one of them - which one can you commit to?" 

 

I agree with those who posted that regular family meetings might be in order, in the sense of talking directly about schedules and so on. My guess would be that he doesn't think he planned a week out of town without telling you, because he wrote it on the calendar. 

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