Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why I Thought I Would Post My Holiday Letter, Then Decided Not To

I consider myself a connoisseur holiday letters, which I have sent and received pretty consistently since I first had children. Since my friends and I are roughly of an age, most of our children have left, or almost left, home. This year, I am struck that my letter and the ones my friends send still focus on the doings of our kids, with some people adding a bit of travelogue or home repair updates. It makes me wonder if having children means that ever after, we live and see the world through others’ eyes, sometimes at the cost of closing our own. I know holiday letters are not an intimate genre, particularly not the mass produced kind, but it seems that I and my mother-friends reflexively place ourselves in the background and move the kids to the foreground of our lives and our relationships. This posture of stooping over our kids becomes so engrained, it is hard to straighten up and reclaim interest in our thoughts and feelings after the kids have grown.

Being in medicine complicates things a bit. My non-medical friends would be baffled if I wrote about how amazed I am about the way that we are finally understanding the illnesses I treat at a genetic level, or how I believe I have experienced an inner paradigm shift in my understanding of psychiatric disorders since I discovered evolutionary biology. But other professional friends are equally reticent about their inner lives—they may report promotions or job changes, but not how they have been evolving and changing themselves.

In the end, I can’t decide whether the loss of interest in one’s self, or perhaps just the expectation that no one else would be interested, is a natural part of growing older, an artifact of being mother, the result of being in a fairly esoteric profession, or simply my own view of things. In the end, being a mother/doctor seems to have greatly expanded my sense of who I am, but with some loss of the value I once placed on reflecting about my experience and sharing it with others.

Of course, nowadays I can blog about it, and leave the kidalogue for my holiday reports.


  1. Jeez, I already commented but my kids interrupted me and I lost it so here goes again. Your blog is worth it.

    This is a well-thought out beautiful essay about life, packed into thoughts on the holiday letter. I loved it, and really appreciate hearing a different perspective, as a mom of a 6 and 4 year old. And I've been blogging for a year, so I know the difference between a "blog" and an "essay." This must have taken a lot of time, and I appreciate the effort.

    I don't do a holiday letter, but put a lot of effort into my Christmas card, which has swelled to a ridiculous 120 plus this year. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to get all of my contacts out of my address book (which is a cluttered folder of envelopes and post-its) into my computer so I can take Shutterfly up on it's offer to mail them from the company.

    The biggest contrast I notice in your essay is the difference between the rich and wonderful life of children and work that you describe and the sense of loss of value of yourself. You seem a little detached, and missing. I've been there, felt that. Reclaiming that should be your New Year's Resolution.

  2. I love your writing and agree with Gizabeth - it is beautiful and rich and insightful. I agree that we are somewhat subsumed by our mother role- this makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, perhaps natural progression through the life steps for a mother: a negotiation between focus on others and focus on self. I've found blogging to be a great outlet for self-reflection and hearing my own voice.

    I took a graduate class a few years ago on Work, Identity, and Adult Development. Taking the class itself, an almost "selfish proposition" - took me away from home a night a week - inspired my thinking in a way that education never did when it was "required."

    About the holiday letter, I do think there is an assumption that others want to hear about our children. (Having never done a holiday letter myself) It also seems too impersonal to talk more deeply about ourselves. I would value such discussions with my girlfriends.

    Have you seen Erma Bombeck's column on the holiday letter? Those letters can get kind of ridiculous.

  3. One more view on the holiday letter focusing on our kids - I think that most of us are (ok, I am) too self-conscious to discuss the issues that you've brought up comfortably in the venue of a holiday card; additionally, I think that many of us fall under Emily Post's guidelines of "don't talk too much about yourself" and feel that a long letter on the achievements of our children is more acceptable than a similar letter about ourselves - as much as we might have accomplished through the year. But thank goodness for the ability to interact with each other through this blog!


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