‘Hey Mum,’ my best friend Mia* and I texted our respective mothers.
‘We won’t be around for Christmas this year – gonna spend it at home. Hope that’s OK. Love you.’
Last month, we both decided – for numerous reasons – that we weren’t going to spend Christmas with our families. And that was the identical text each of us sent.
Mia’s mum was unsurprised, but it took days for me to get a response, which included something about me being selfish. Nothing new.
But we have no regrets. We’ll be spending Christmas Day with each other – plus three other friends – instead of our families and we couldn’t be more excited for it.
I met Mia on SpareRoom in 2019.
I had been trawling through endless adverts for bedrooms in Manchester – most of them were overpriced, and a window seemed to be a luxury. On top of that, a lot of them seemed to have been written by lonely men.
Once I had taken the unaffordable, unlivable and terrifying adverts out of the equation, I was left with just a few. Of that few, one stuck out the most: seemingly written by somebody with a personality that perfectly complemented mine.
Mia had written that she was a freelancer working in the arts like me, and had previously worked at my favourite bar in town. She was an avid earring collector, and I’d started making them as a hobby.
I was right about our compatibility. During the house viewing, I immediately felt how different the atmosphere was – we actually laughed, mainly at the landlord’s ostentatious Gucci belt, and I ended up sitting out back with her for a couple of extra hours gossiping about our exes, who as it turned out, had crossed paths.
After viewing the home, I moved straight in. Within weeks, we were best friends. We had a shared love for karaoke in the living room, dancing all night, cooking, happy hour and documentaries.
I’m not the most trusting person in the world, and I kept waiting for the catch. There wasn’t one, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to have a mutually beneficial, loving relationship.
We both feel we have had to parent our own parents in our lives; something no child wants or signs up for
Then, one evening in front of our small TV, cradling glasses of red wine, the conversation shifted to stories of our childhoods. I was shocked to hear so much of my own trauma reflected back at me – you’d never known all she’d been through unless she told you.
Both Mia’s mum and my own are alcoholics. Hers admits this, mine does not.
We both feel we have had to parent our own parents in our lives; something no child wants or signs up for. Though it’s easy to slot into this role, it’s a lot harder to get out of.
Both of our mothers have emotionally manipulated us throughout our lives – whether by way of gaslighting, control or a barrage of insults and a string of abuse. As a result, we have undergone many hours of therapy to try and deal with who we have become as adults as a result – though we reassure each other that we turned out just fine, all things considered.
Ultimately, we agree that having each other is the best shield.
So earlier this year, in November, we both agreed to create as much distance as we’re comfortable with between ourselves and our mothers as we can, as protection.
For me, this looks like less face-to-face contact, and messaging only when it’s clear there is no confrontation on the horizon. For Mia, she has had to cut her mother out entirely, except for a phone call here and there (mainly regarding her AA meetings). She simply cannot take the strain anymore.
Mia is estranged from her dad. My dad is ill – and doesn’t like celebrating Christmas anyway. Our family lives are, to put it simply, quite depressing and we never look forward to Christmas.
It’s too much of an obstacle course – a day spent dodging arguments and being overly aware of the tones of our voices, while texting each other under the table. ‘Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!’, we told each other last year, looking forward to settling back into our home comforts as early as possible on Boxing Day.
After looking back at years gone by, we realised we have been fated to sit, gritting our teeth, waiting for it to end so we can see our friends again: our chosen family.
That’s when – last month – we proposed the idea of a friends’ only Christmas. Nothing too radical, it might seem, but we guessed we’d probably get backlash from our families if we were to go through with it.
At the end of the day, Christmas is often about image – often projected on social media – and we thought our families were no exception.
We understood it was finally the time to resist this forced tradition. Texting my mum, I realised I didn’t feel guilty about my choice – but I was scared of how she’d reply. In that moment, I understood that although it would be hard – it was was time to make a change.
Because Mia is the family I want to spend the holiday with.
She’s the person who has taught me the most about our afro hair, we have nursed each other through heartbreak, and we have supported each other in ways you might expect a parent to – financially, emotionally and showing up to important events.
Christmas, going forward, is going to be done our way to honour our bond. After all, isn’t it all about showing appreciation for those who have given us love?
We thought it would just be the two of us at the dinner table, exchanging gifts and drinking Baileys with a smile on our faces – finally. But once we started to tell our friends about our plans, many of them asked to join in.
It turns out, a lot of people get swept up in a day spent with family that they have difficult relationships with, due to not knowing where else to turn or a lack of options.
As a small group of five, we have pitched in for Christmas dinner – luckily, one of us is a chef – so we’ve spent our money on gifts for each other, decorations for the table, candles that smell like gingerbread, crackers to pull.
It will be a day for us, designed completely by us. I can’t wait to exchange cards full of meaningful messages and wear paper crowns.
This year is the first Christmas in memory that I’m really looking forward to because it’s an opportunity to breathe and show gratitude to those I have in my life through choice, who show up every day and are a joy to be around.
I can’t see this changing for our group going forward, especially not Mia and I.
I’m so glad we found each other – that’s the best Christmas miracle I could ask for.
Degrees of Separation
This series aims to offer a nuanced look at familial estrangement.
Estrangement is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and we want to give voice to those who’ve been through it themselves.
If you’ve experienced estrangement personally and want to share your story, you can email [email protected] and/or [email protected]
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