Holiday Road Trip or Guilt Trip? Working Moms Navigating a Visit Home for the Holidays


The holidays are often a special bonding time for families. Some families are spread over the country (or world), coming together for the rare visit. Other families are much closer, and the holiday dinner may be one of the many dinners shared each month. Each family has its own set of expectations for the perfect holiday, and sometimes this can take some creative planning but leads to a rewarding experience.

In some families, though, the daughter’s life is expected to be focused around her mother. The adult daughter with her own life, and even her own family, is treated as if she is still a child or a subordinate. Sometimes, nothing the adult daughter does is sufficient to her mother’s expectations.

Here are the most common holiday mothers and some solutions for how the adult daughters can cope.

1. The Needy Mom

It’s true—there’s a difference between wanting a grown daughter and her family around for the holiday and demanding it. Solution? Usually, a gentle reminder or providing an alternative can appease the hurt in missing a holiday with mom, who may just need a reality check that her grown daughter will not be able to spend every holiday, every year, for the rest of her life, with her mother. And then send her flowers.

2. The Guilt Tripper

The adult daughter doesn’t call enough, doesn’t visit enough. Ultimately, mom can’t handle the empty nest. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how long it has been since the children moved out—the empty nest is a very-real-to-her-but-irrational-to-everyone-else fear that the mother might be left alone, ultimately to be called the local witch by the neighborhood children. But adult women are not responsible for their mother’s happiness. Solution? Try telling her she made you the successful, independent, autonomous woman you are today. And send her flowers. Scary witches don’t get flower deliveries.

3. The “That’s Not MY Recipe for Baked Yams” Mother

This is a tough one for adult daughters with their own lives, but their mom may be in competition to prove that they were the best at being a mom, at raising kids. They may want to show off how much better their holiday dinners are, or how the daughters could not be functioning adults without their sage advice. They may only feel validated if their daughters make all the same choices they made. If the daughter goes her own way, mom may take it as a personal slight. Solution? Don’t take the bait. Sometimes you just need to get through a holiday dinner in peace. Then vent about her on the drive home.

4. Your Mother is a Bear

You cannot poke the bear. You cannot appease the bear. The bear can smell blood or a struggling salmon from a thirty-mile radius. The bear is passive aggressive and sneaky. The bear’s needs must become the single most important needs of everyone in that thirty-mile radius. Solution? Hibernate this one out. The adult daughter is not a bear keeper or park ranger and has her own family and life to manage.

Women have so much to deal with already, especially around the holidays. If they have children of their own, it can be an important lesson for the children to see their mom not being passive in the face of grandma’s aggressive or undermining behavior.

It is hard not to fall into the cycles of guilt, especially when family bonds are seen as critical foundations for our lives. Our families are our support systems, and mothers can be the biggest support systems for working moms. But when that support system flips, and the adult daughter must cater to the whims of her mother, then the relationship is not going to be as loving or happy a bond. And very few people have the time and the energy for that. Mother-daughter relationships are complex, and sometimes even complicated. But they shouldn’t be toxic, and if they are, the beauty of being a grown woman means not having to stay in a toxic situation.

So set your boundaries, and if your mom doesn’t understand, explain to her that you are an adult with your own life. You don’t have to be hurtful, but you can be firm. If it fits in with your schedule, come up with a lower-key alternative, one that is on your terms.

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