Dear Patti, 

My grandmother is 82 and has always been like a mother to me. This truly wonderful woman has recently become very ill and I’ll probably need to fly out of state to take care of her. Ever since I told my husband and three sons (ages 6, 9 and 13) that I wouldn’t be home for Christmas, they’ve been insisting on coming along. In addition to the fact Grandma may be too sick to have children around, her house is too small to accommodate all of us so they’d have to stay at a nearby hotel. Last night my husband said he’d drive the boys so they could bring our dog and my oldest has been looking online for pet-friendly hotels. I don’t even know how much time I’d be able to spend with them on this trip — and besides, the boys wouldn’t have a tree, or all their toys and presents, or their friends to play with. As I see it, it’s a recipe for stir-crazy kids and a resentful husband. As much as they think they want to come, I’m afraid they’ll regret it. How can I convince them to stay home?

  — Andrea

Dear Andrea,

It’s important to share your fears and concerns with your family as well as make it very clear that Grandma is the priority for your attention right now. If, after you’ve made your case, they still insist on going, then let them. 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 as a family during challenging times. Encourage them to discover that a joyful time can be had wherever you are, as long as you all have each other.

Give each child some responsibility for filling the hotel room with holiday spirit. For instance, your youngest could be in charge of making decorations and putting the festive frosting on store-bought cookies, your middle son could be responsible for your dog, and your eldest could become the social director and look online for fun things to do when visiting a new city. No matter where they are, they can still visit Santa and enjoy Christmas dinner at a restaurant. Buy a little tree for the hotel and let them decorate it with disposable ornaments like cranberry and popcorn chains. Allow them to be creative and make their own Christmas topper. Let them buy one present for each family member to open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and save the rest of their presents to open when they get home. Two Christmastimes…not bad! Most of all, remind them it’s important to show Grandma how much she’s loved by having them color a holiday picture, write a get-well card or make a gift to lift her spirits. Maybe they can select favorite photographs to help her to get to know them better.

If her health permits, it’s crucial that your children be part of her caretaking. If she’s up to it, a visit from them will mean a lot to her, even if you have to take them one at a time. People often conceal the reality of serious illness from young children in order to protect them. In doing this, however, they take away the opportunity of building personal character by being helpful and loving.

This trip may be a chance for your sons — or maybe just the older ones — to bond with your grandmother and create meaningful memories for years to come. They might enjoy listening to her life story and later writing it down as a family history project.

Let them know how proud you are of them being willing to sacrifice their own needs and how much it means that they want to support you and Grandma. You’re a fortunate woman to have such love around you. Merry Christmas!

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her website,