Caroline West-Meads: ‘Where should we spend Christmas?’

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Q. My partner and I can’t agree where to spend Christmas. We used to alternate between his parents and mine, but both our mothers are recently widowed – and now we each feel obliged to spend Christmas with our own mums, especially as we didn’t see them last year during lockdown.

To be honest, we’d both rather visit my partner’s mum because she’s sweet and easygoing while mine is quite difficult, especially since my dad died. She complains all the time about our two sons – who are in their late teens – saying they are scruffy, and criticises them for not getting out of bed until lunchtime. (No prizes for guessing which gran they would rather go to!) We’ve been putting off the decision, but my mum keeps piling on the guilt and asking what we are going to do. We have thought about taking my mum with us to my mother-in-law’s house but they don’t get on particularly well.

My partner has always felt that my mum looks down on his family because his lovely dad had a trade instead of a ‘career’, and it makes his mum feel a little uncomfortable. I’m an only child, so if we don’t go to my mum she will be alone, whereas my partner has a sister who will visit his mother with her husband and kids. I’ve been wondering about seeing my mum on my own while my husband and the boys go to his family, but he doesn’t want us to spend the day apart – and I don’t want to set a precedent for following years.

A. Goodness, it’s enough to make you want to hide under the duvet throughout December and wait for Christmas to be over! I can fully understand your dilemma. Your mum sounds pretty hard work and is using guilt to manipulate you. Of course, she is also lonely and grieving (as are you, for both your father and father-in-law) – and understandably you don’t want her to spend Christmas alone.

But don’t go to your mum’s house on your own – it will just make for a miserable time. The only real solution is to take her with you to your mother-in-law’s. But make sure you make plans in advance to mitigate any potential difficulties. With your husband, explain to your mother-in-law beforehand how special she is to you both and how much you love to see her. Say that you recognise that your own mother is difficult and ask her to try to ignore her insensitive comments. Then distraction is your key to a more relaxed day.

Perhaps you could keep your mum busy while your partner and his sister help his mother cook. Get your sons (and their cousins) to plan some games or a family quiz, or source some great films for after lunch. If you minimise conversation time, the day will seem easier. In the longer term, encourage your mother and mother-in-law to join support and friendship groups for widows, such as, or to help them adjust to lives without their husbands.

‘My friend is spiralling out of control’

Q. I go out for drinks with a group of girlfriends about once a month. We’re in our mid-50s and we’ve been friends for years. However, one woman is devastated after her husband left her for a younger woman. She’s always been a bit of a drinker, but last week she was knocking back the prosecco way too fast.

Although we tried to stop her, two of us ended up having to help her home. I called the next morning to ask if she was OK, but she started yelling and saying that I might think I had the perfect life but that I was a ‘boring cow’ and at least she knew how to have fun. I am so shocked and hurt that I almost want to give up on her, but I’m worried about her adult children.

A. Please don’t take it personally. She’s obviously not coping well, but what is very concerning is that her behaviour on the phone may well have been because she was still drunk, and this sounds as if it could have developed into a serious problem. Don’t give up on her: she clearly needs help.

So instead of calling, go round and see her with one of your other friends and ask her how she is. If she appears sober, tell her how worried you are about her. If she gets angry, stay calm and tell her that you and your other friends love her dearly and know how unhappy she is. Don’t be afraid to tell her adult children that you are worried about her, and perhaps you could inform her ex-husband too if you are still friends with him. You can all get advice from Al-Anon (, 0800 0086 811), which helps the families and friends of problem drinkers.