Perhaps one of the most difficult things in life is going through the holidays without those you love. It could be a marriage on the rocks, work-related travel, a medical issue or many other things that could keep you from being with those you care most about.
I think it is saddest when members of a family, who have spent years together, decide to stay away from a particular relative (or relatives). I understand when there are real extenuating circumstances, but staying at home is inconsiderate if you're holding a grudge or placating a partner who is childish enough to say, "If you go visit them, you're going alone."
Look. You're not going to love everyone in your family all the time. In-laws can become outlaws. Kids from a divorced family have to decide (or be bribed) to go to one parent's home over the other. All of this posturing and sometimes spite isn't what this season is about.
I think we all get that. But why is it so easy to forget?
This is a difficult time for many people, and being alone during the holidays (when it's not by choice) can be quite painful emotionally. But it's selfish to make no effort to see relatives because you're angry about something that happened in the past. So is discouraging loved ones from visiting family.
I know some very successful and busy people who go out of their way to see friends or family members and be supportive by bringing with them a little holiday cheer. It isn't about presents — it's about presence. Someone acknowledging your existence by inviting you over or by showing up is heartwarming and healing, especially if you've been at odds.
It's never too late to have a happy family. If you are divorced and remarried and you have kids with your ex, you are connected forever, and it's something to respect. Yes, the kids going to each of your houses is fine; it's rare that two blended families can have a block party. The idea here is to live the spirit of the season by not shutting out people who have been important in your life.
Learning to put your differences aside is a real grown-up decision and isn't all that easy, but we've all done it when necessary. The question you have to ask yourself: What's the right thing to do in this case? It may not be attractive to you at first, but when you give it some thought and you consider how you want to feel about yourself in the future, the decision is pretty clear. And what you are giving to those you share the season with is a true gift from the heart.
If you take the high road, even if it's a little bumpy, I think you will find that, like the Grinch when he joined in the celebration, your heart will grow three sizes that day.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author, most recently, of "100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence — Believe in Yourself and Others Will Too." E-mail him at Barton@BartonGoldsmith.com.