Dear Patti,

I’m not sure how I ended up with my life the way it is. No doubt I took more than a few wrong turns. In some ways I’ve been successful beyond my expectations and in other ways have failed like I never knew was possible. I’m divorced with two wonderful sons (ages 10 and 14) and while I legally share 50/50 custody with their father and his wife, I actually have them much less because — as a consistently employed actress — I’m often traveling and working. This year I’ve been exceptionally busy. The success is unbelievably rewarding, but nothing takes away the constant feeling of being homesick for my children.

Christmas is my favorite holiday, but this Christmas and New Year’s I’ll be away from home working on a movie in England. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been offered such a wonderful role, but my heart is hurting to be away from my boys. Ever since they found out I wouldn’t be home for Christmas, they’ve both been insisting on coming along. Surprisingly, my ex-husband thinks they need to be with me and that it’s a great idea. In addition to the fact that I don’t know how much time I’d be able to spend with them, I don’t think they understand that they wouldn’t have the environment which turns the holiday into a heartwarming Christmas such as a home-cooked holiday meal, a Christmas tree surrounded with beautifully wrapped presents, not to mention their friends and cousins to be with. There’s nothing I’d like more than to have them with me, but, as I see it, taking them on the trip could be a recipe for disaster with resentful, stir-crazy kids having to stay in a nearby hotel. My personal assistant would be with them whenever I’m on set and is also campaigning for them to come. She knows they’ve always wanted a dog and that their favorite breed is an English bulldog; she’s already looking up English kennels and pet-friendly hotels. 

As much as they think they want to come I’m afraid they’ll end up regretting it and having bitter feelings toward me. I do want them but, for their own good, should I insist they stay home? If so, how do I convince them that it’s not because I don’t want them?

  — Millie

Dear Millie,  

Share all your fears and concerns with your sons, making it very clear that since this is a work trip, you’ll often have little control of when you’ll be available. If after you’ve made your case and they still insist on going, then perhaps you should think about the possibility of letting them. Maybe they’re trying to tell you that in spite of any problems that might occur, it’s more of a problem to not be with you on Christmas. Even if you’re not around a lot, they want to be nearby. More significant than your children experiencing an idyllic, traditional holiday is the lesson of learning how to embrace flexibility and pull together with you as a family during challenging times. Let them discover that a joyful time can be had wherever you are, as long as you have each other.

Buy a little tree for the hotel and decorate it with disposable ornaments like cranberry and popcorn chains. Give your kids the responsibility for filling the hotel room with holiday spirit, being in charge of making it festive and looking online for fun things to do when visiting a new city. They may even be learning to care for a new puppy! 

I understand that you want to protect your budding young men from having a disappointing holiday. In doing this, however, you may take away the opportunity of building personal character by being helpful and loving to you. What’s most important is the connection the three of you share. This trip may be a chance for your sons to bond with you and create meaningful memories for years to come. 

Let them know how proud you are of them being willing to sacrifice their own needs to be with you. You’re a fortunate woman to have such love around you. Merry Christmas! n

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has an office in Pasadena. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.