Even after 20 years, my two daughters and I still make many adjustments to our desires, preferences and expectations for family gatherings, especially during the Holidays. Divorced after 18 years of marriage, the family separation has left us coping with layers of losses. All of the family traditions are altered. The Holidays are still the most poignant and difficult for us.
The way the Holidays are celebrated with my children now cannot match the deeply embedded social customs they learned since their infancy, which were passed on to me since my infancy and so on and so forth. We have had to adjust to a new reality, and so have their dad and their grandparents – like it or not.
It’s not the way it “should” be, though. There is “no place like home” for the Holidays. (Which home? MY home, of course!) We are supposed to relax and enjoy time off from work and spend it with our family. We should be enjoying good conversation and food. My kids “should” be with me on the Holidays…especially on Christmas. These “shoulds” were causing me and them a great deal of pressure, frustration disappointment and resentment.
One of us has remarried since the divorce. The new step-parent has children and traditions, too, and s/he wants their children and step-kids to get to know one another. The kids don’t want to leave the unmarried parent alone on Christmas. What to do?
My grown children also have mates now. So, their significant others also have families and their own traditions to blend. One son-in-law’s parents were divorced, too, and one has remarried and lives in another state. Add aging grandparents – not just the original sets, but including the step-parents’ parents and you have the modern family dilemma.
My children have to make choices between loved ones which I never had to deal with. The “shoulds”, whether spoken aloud or inferred, often cause them to feel pressured, guilty, ashamed, anxious and angry. I want them to with me, of course. Christmas is not the same without them. And, their father feels the same way, of course.
The traditional nuclear family Christmas Eve at church and Christmas morning breakfast and gift exchange are no longer possible. Celebrating with the entire extended family for Christmas dinner at Grandma’s is out, too.
The family is so extended that we cannot please everyone. The kids try to see and accommodate two sets of parents (or more). They don’t want to disappoint anyone, but they cannot be in two (three, four) places at one time. It’s very stressful for them when they have to travel from place to place all day or day after day. It’s hard to really relax and enjoy being “together”.
So, I made a decision. I asked myself if I needed to change? YES. I DECIDED. What was important to me was seeing my kids for a block of time to enjoy one another and celebrate our blessings. It did not matter so much if it was on THE Day. What we had for dinner and where we had it was not as important as having joy when and wherever we were gathered.
Joy is what I decided to share with them. They are my joy. The season is my joy.
I decided to find other joys in the season for myself -baking, going on a short trip, inviting friends for hoiday coffee and dessert, reading a favorite book in front of the fireplace, …etc.
Some of our traditions are not so much ‘joyful’ as they are unexamined expectations and habits. I thought it over and decided that rituals mean little unless they open our hearts.
As Charles Swindoll said in Attitude:
“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it”. Amen.