Behind Closed Doors

Sad woman at ChristmasNo one knows what happens in your house. You don’t know what’s going on in your friend’s home.

The rosy, twinkle-lit home down the street may hide the stale tension between parent and child, husband and wife, even without financial struggle or illness. The holidays are dreaded, but you would never know. The loneliness of transition from teen to young adult or middle-age to senior happens in multiple generations all at once, and shows up during the holidays—each person feeling misunderstood. It can be hard to get across that street to find each other in new ways. So normal, so rarely talked about, so deeply felt as failure.

Some families are heart broken at this time of year over a young adult child in prison, or another addicted to drugs or alcohol, or the failure of yet another child to wait until adulthood to start a family.

In other families, fifteen+ years of marriage reveal the deep flaws in both parties—not everyone navigates the challenge of overcoming them well. Not every marriage weathers the storm of familiarity and accumulated hurts.

The holidays are sold as a guarantee of nostalgia and family-centered joy. If your family is suffering (for any reason), television advertising and your friend’s Christmas letter may be just enough to put you over the edge into despair or depression.

I like this reminder:

“Nothing is what it seems.”

Behind the “good” are layers of challenge and personal pain points tolerated, stood, endured, resented, and not always overcome. Each family has its own distinct blend of wonderful and terrible. The holidays often accentuate both.

Behind the “bad” are the threads of what was imagined, hoped for, and loved—both aspiration and realization, loss combined with gain. A mixture of goodnesses survives “in spite of,” which mitigates the “bad.”

If this year is tough (not how you wanted it, not how you imagined it, not how you expected it to be!), hold on. It’s only one year. I liked what a friend said about Thanksgiving. She said if you are struggling through the over-burdened-with-expectation event, call Thanksgiving by its other name: “a Thursday.”

You can do that with any holiday this season. You get to let one go in your lifetime, if you have to, if that helps.

In the meantime, you can hold out for glimmers of good. Finding the good in a year gone wrong takes persistent attentiveness. You might be too tired. I know I’ve been some years.

I like to tell my day: “I don’t have the energy to make today good. Instead, surprise me.”

Then, a tiny part of my heart looks for the surprise. When it comes, I pause and am grateful (to the extent that my energy affords me). It doesn’t always work, but even in my darkest years, the surprises showed up sometimes. They made a difference (stuff like a satisfying phone call with a friend, an early bloom, finding my favorite chocolate on sale, a long hug from my teen at home).

If you feel alone in your “behind closed doors” shames, I wanted to throw out a life ring into that sea. You’re not alone. Hold on. This too shall pass. You can get through it. You will find a way. Maybe not today. Maybe not this December. But you will, eventually.

Be good to you.

Keep going. It’s just “a December.”

Image © Citalliance |

3 Responses to “Behind Closed Doors”

  1. Kim says:

    Thank you one million times over!!!

  2. Jen Berghage says:

    I’m very tired of people who hold the attitude that a child born to a young person is somehow a mistake and a guarantee of “ruined lives” as described in this otherwise sensitive post (“the failure of yet another child to wait until adulthood to start a family”).

    I think it’s exactly this attitude that perpetuates the struggles. Let’s not be so self-absorbed and instead, spread out a bit of love, no matter whether our little rules and regs have been observed.

    A human life is a human life, and it’ll turn out one way or another completely depending on the love and support and stimulation and education and opportunities for good self expression that WE all provide.

  3. Julie Bogart says:

    Jen, I feel you missed my point. I was writing from the perspective of the parent who feels unsettled about the changed vision that parent had for his or her child. Teen pregnancy can come as a shock, but that doesn’t mean that the parent will not come to accept the circumstance and adore the new baby! My post doesn’t address that—only the struggle to get to that place after receiving the news.

    My writing meant to convey how a parent who has a specific ideal feels when confronted with a changed reality. I didn’t call the child a “failure,” but instead wrote that the child “failed to wait.” It is not the pregnant child who is a failure or the conceived to-be-born baby who is a failure, but rather a “failure to wait”—whether accidentally or deliberately—that can be stressful for parents.

    I appreciate your feedback, though. I certainly did not intend to cause you any unwitting pain or disrespect.