Here we are at the end of October with Thanksgiving just 4 weeks away! No doubt, if you are a midlife woman and have and have adult children, the conversations of who will be where and at what time have begun. If your kids are married or have significant others, you will likely be in the position to have to consider their “in-laws” plans when you make your schedule. And in the case of blended families, we have a whole slew of parents, grandparents, and steps. Why can’t everybody just go home to their family of origin and meet up after the holidays?
Today, Joan Stommen, the mom and grandma behind the blog, GramcrackerCrumbs offers her perspective based on 20 years experience with all of this holiday “sharing”. Joan has 2 kids and 5 grandchildren who call her, what else? Gramcraker!
Adult Children and The Holidays – 10 Tips to Ease the Stress of Sharing
Many of you have probably started shopping for gifts, made travel reservations or are busy unpacking decorations for the coming winter holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hannukah will soon be here. Have you thought about the actual day of celebration? If your adult children are married or living with significant others; whether you have grandchildren near or far….there are bound to be some question marks about where, when and with whom. After years of familiar routine, change rears its head when our kids grow up. For the past twenty years, my holidays were unpredictable and seemingly different every year. As needs arose and life interfered, I found some solutions that worked for us. Hopefully, you’ll find some soothing memory making ideas here.
- Remind yourself that it comes under the heading of letting go.
We send them off to college, help with wedding preparations and applaud their home and job choices. Welcoming another family member is how the empty nest begins to fill again. Our son was the first to marry and we loved the bonus of another daughter; but they married and settled in Michigan; several states away from us in Georgia. I think there was only time for a sigh of relief before it hit me…things would be different now.
- Respect that the newlyweds may want to host a big holiday themselves.
They married in late September and had an autumn honeymoon. The next thing we knew, they wanted to host Thanksgiving. My husband and daughter and I drove north, caught up in the excitement of the newlyweds hosting their first holiday. Having Thanksgiving dinner prepared by someone else and spending time with the other parents was a treat. But being invited back for Christmas was much harder. I didn’t like it and may have whined to my son, “please come to us, we always cut down a tree, decorate it, go to Christmas Eve Mass, get up at the crack of dawn tooogetherrrrr.” Her parents were not able to go, so my son’s pleading that their first Christmas was a really big deal touched my heart. Imagine my delight discovering he followed our same traditions; leaving milk and cookies for Santa, opening a gift on Christmas Eve, making us wait in the hallway Christmas morning until he turned on the lights and exclaimed, “SANTA WAS HERE!”
- When it’s your turn to host a family gathering, invite the son or daughter-in-law’s parents.
After our daughter married and bought a home nearby, my husband and I mostly hosted holiday dinners. Our son-in-law’s parents lived out of state, so when they were in town, we included them as well. I never realized in those early years that the other parents would soon become lifelong friends.
- Accept when you’re invited to their homes. Plans and places can change, but you’ll all be together and the kids will be all right.
Sharing a Thanksgiving with my daughter-in-law’s blended family; another with my son-in-law’s extended family….so many that a big hall was rented….were two of the best times we ever had. Your children will beam as they watch the connection of their families grow. Thirteen years ago on a lovely, snowy evening, the young couple invited their moms out for drinks after a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. As the four of us relaxed, his mom and I blurted out at the same time, “when are we getting a grandchild?” We’d held our tongues for three years so we felt entitled. I loved us being on the same page; this favorite friend I now call my “grandmother-in-law.”
- Discuss your preferences as soon as possible before the holiday.
Whether it’s religious purposes, enough space to hold everyone, who really wants to cook, travel or medical considerations; early planning will make it easier for everyone. Letters and conversations throughout the year will make the ’planners’ more comfortable in expressing their wishes. Getting to know the other family members not only makes holiday preparations easier but builds a camaraderie that can only strengthen your kids’ bond in all aspects of marriage.
- If you find you’ll be on your own some Thanksgiving, Christmas or other event…take off!
Don’t stay home and fume or fret; take a road trip, make reservations for holiday dinner at a nice restaurant, head to the Bahamas. There will be years when all your kids go to their in-laws or have plans with pals. My husband and I traveled to San Antonio, Texas one Christmas Day, ate dinner at a Howard Johnson and toured the Alamo. The rest of the week we took day trips and enjoyed the Riverwalk events at night. It tickled us knowing we could have a blast and never missed Christmas with the kids at all!
- When the grandkids finally come along!
Always respect the new mother’s wishes first….especially the first year. Use common sense and again, discuss it well ahead of time. My son and daughter-in-law moved south to be near us when their first daughter was born. I felt great peace and contentment to do the holidays “my way” again; envisioning my daughter and the new little family all under our roof. But the new mom wanted Thanksgiving; hosting us and her parents from out of town. We hadn’t seen them since the wedding four years earlier and we had lots to catch up on about this new baby girl. Since we got to see our first grandchild frequently, we didn’t mind her other grandparents taking over the feeding, holding and rocking for a few days.
- Stagger the holidays by years if all parties are acceptable.
As time goes by, let your kids decide what works for them. They not only have in-laws to celebrate with but will want to host themselves some years. Some families only want Thanksgiving or Easter; others like to switch off. Open communication and flexibility is the key. Believe me….the day will come when going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house becomes the best for everyone!
- If everyone lives close enough, stagger the times for opening holiday presents.
The whole magical scene will still be there later that afternoon, the next morning or even the next week. Eighteen years ago when our first grandchild came along, I insisted Santa would come down our chimney too…and fill stockings for everyone! Needless to say, he came down every year after and I had four more stockings embroidered with each grandchild’s name. I don’t recommend this; not only can it be costly, but potentially awkward too. It was a bit sticky for my daughter initially. She and her husband wanted their own Christmas morning ritual with their children and liked having Christmas Dinner at the other grandparents’ house. We agreed to wait until the following morning to open the gifts around our tree. Seeing the delight on little faces as they ran in the door made it all worthwhile. One year we spent Christmas morning with our California family; flew home that evening and had Christmas again the next morning with our Georgia family. (You know Santa, the Easter Bunny, and Leprechauns come even if you’re not home, right?)
- If you’re a long distant grandparent unable to join the celebration, you can still be present.
Just make sure you follow the parent’s suggestions first, then your grandchild’s request and lastly your own surprises. If you’ll miss a Thanksgiving or Easter Dinner, send things that can be included such as a candle or special prayer, inexpensive decorations, stickers or a new shirt or dress for the occasion. When I lived on the other side of the country from my older grandkids; I’d wrap and send gifts to go under their tree; then after Christmas, I’d send anything Santa had left under mine, including the filled stockings! Needless to say, we spoiled the kids and kept UPS and FedEx in business.
Now that I’m a widow and the grandkids are getting older, it amuses me that my son and daughter now want to ‘share’ mom! The first Christmas on my own, I went to my son’s, the next year to my daughter’s. Now he’s moved nearby and would like me to join in their holiday festivities. But I don’t see my daughter’s family as often, so it’d be worth a plane ticket to their house or….I may decide to spend my holidays doing something completely different. After years of appreciating their parents’ flexibility, I’m confident they’ll both be fine with whatever I decide.
What are your tips for peacefully “sharing” your kids and grandkids during the holidays?
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Joan Stommen is a former teacher and principal, spending 33 years in education. She has 2 grown children and 5 grandchildren who keep her life busy and her heart happy. Nicknamed Gramcracker by her first grandchild, Joan's everyday journaling about bits and pieces of life eventually became a lifestyle blog called Gramcracker Crumbs.