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The Girlfriend Dilemma

hands heartWhat about “the girlfriend”?  That question comes up in a variety of sticky situations for the holidays, vacations, and other family-only events.

The girlfriend question is faced by two friends, both mothers of three children.  Karen is mulling her son’s request to invite his girlfriend to the gift opening on the Christmas morning, usually reserved for the family only.  Another mom, Rina, is debating whether to bring her son’s girlfriend on what was initially planned as a family-only trip to Europe this summer. 

The back story is familiar.   Both women, successful professionals, have worked hard since their children were babies building traditions to capture that elusive “quality” time. Both women happily throw their homes open on other occasions but Christmas morning and a special family vacation put them in a quandary.   Another similarity is both sons, recent college grads,  are the oldest so the change in a cherished family tradition by an outsider impacts younger children too.

Karen says, “On Christmas morning my younger sons rip through presents in their pajamas and act goofy, and I love that. I worry with a stranger sitting there they’ll feel awkward. And suppose we invite her only to have them break up a week later?”

Rina has been working long hours and sees the much-anticipated trip as a way to recapture some family closeness.  She also realizes this vacation is probably the last time she gets everyone coordinated to go on a trip as life takes them in different directions.

“I want one last vacation with just my family together,” she says.

 How much will a newcomer change the situation?  A lot depends on how inclusive the family has been over the years.  Some families routinely vacation with other families and always include friends on trips and other events. Other families prefer parents and children only for certain celebrations.

 It’s a hard call. What’s wrong with a little nostalgia when a mom realizes that decades of intimate events are coming to an end and wants one last family-only time before starting new traditions?  Maybe the answer to that love-struck child: Yes, the girlfriend is (an approving adjective) person and welcome in our home, but this vacation, Christmas morning, or whatever it’s going to be just family. 

 However, other moms welcome the new girlfriend, even if it’s likely to be a limited-run relationship. Debbie, the mother of four sons, aged 23 to 32, never had a problem with them bringing girlfriends to family events.

She says, “The way I view it is that it means my sons a) want to be with us for the  holidays/vacations  and b) want to show these girls what our family  traditions are and are proud.”

 This past summer girlfriends joined the family on a trip to the Caribbean.

 When her oldest son, Sean, wanted to bring his girlfriend to the family Christmas celebration for the first time Debbie and her husband welcomed her even though Sean had barely mentioned the girl’s name previously.  “We felt that even if there was not a wedding coming, she was important to him.  That was all we needed and the way we feel about all of them.”  The happy ending: The couple, now married, and their two small children, will gather with the rest of the clan for Thanksgiving.

 What about the boyfriend? What happens when a daughter wants to include her new beau in small, family gatherings?   Interesting, no one has complained about that.  In fact, just the opposite.  Two young women, who were both in years-long relationships, broke up with their boyfriends only to have their parents continue to invite them to family events.  That dilemma is for next week’s blog.

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