Remember back to when your kids were little and the joy there was (even on those hard days), especially at the holidays. My guess is that most of us enjoyed that time but also dreamed of a day when they would have their own perfect family. We imagined our homes full of grown children, their spouses, and our grandchildren – one big happy family celebrating under our roof. What we probably didn’t dream about were those holidays we wouldn’t share with them. The thought of a holiday without your children may fill you with fear and sadness. I totally get that but you don’t need to fear; hope is here and it won’t be as bad as you think. “How can you say that? I’ll miss them so much!” Yes, you will but there is joy to be found in watching them, maybe from afar, celebrate with the other side of their family and creating their own traditions and memories.
Here’s some tips for finding that joy:
Encourage them to create their own traditions and memories centered around their family.
Remember they don’t have to have kids yet to be a family. My husband and I grew up in the same town and both sets of parents remained there. Our second year of marriage we moved a few hours away from home. As I prepared for Christmas in our home, I also was making plans to visit our parents over the holidays. I assumed we would spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with them as we always had. When the time came to discuss our travel plans, you can imagine my horror when my husband said, “We aren’t going to be there Christmas morning.” I said, “What do you mean??” He went on to explain that we were now a family, our own family, and we would begin to make our own memories and traditions in our own home. Sure, we would visit family later in the day or the week, but the heart of the holiday would be ours. That was 40 years ago, and I have never once resented nor regretted his decision.
Encourage them to make memories and spend time with their in-laws.
Stormie Omartian says, “There are probably no more fragile relationships than those with in-laws, and bad in-law relationships make for a very uncomfortable, hurtful, and miserable situation.” Nobody wants that for their child! We must set aside our desire to spend all the time with them and encourage them in their relationships with their in-laws. We have a small extended family and have always spent Thanksgiving together. The first year my daughter was married, they spent Thanksgiving at her in-laws. She loves them and they love her. (We love them too!) But it was strange to her and, in the middle of the day, she found herself pretty sad. Believe me, I wanted to commiserate with her and tell her I was sad too. But its our job to help them nurture their relationship with their in-laws, so I put on my big girl panties and did just that while also making sure she knew we missed her and how much we loved her.
It’s also important to note that in most families, it appears to be natural to spend more time with the wife’s family. If you have a daughter, be sure to encourage them to spend as much time with your son-in-law’s family as possible. If you have a son, be sure to encourage them to spend time with you too. Work to build a relationship with your child’s in-laws and who knows, maybe you can spend some of those holidays together. That can be a wonderful celebration!
Be realistic and plan ahead
“Develop realistic expectations of how the holidays should be spent. Wishful thinking generally leads to hurt feelings and disappointment.” (focusonthefamily.com) Making plans ahead of time helps everyone know what to expect and avoid disappointment. Let your kids know its ok for them to make plans around their schedule and their in-laws’ schedule if needed.
Celebrate from afar or at another time
What’s important is being together and the reason for the holiday, not the where and when.
It’s not a rule that you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving in October or have Thanksgiving & Christmas together in January. Technology affords us the ability to celebrate together from afar when we can’t physically be together. My brother and his family lived in Australia for seven years. We didn’t always get to be together, but we had some pretty amazing celebrations via Skype.
Send a gift, a treat or just a note
One way you can be a part of their celebration when they aren’t with you is by letting them know you are thinking about them. For occasions that typically involve gift-giving like Christmas or birthdays, send a gift ahead making sure it arrives before they do. Even if you are going to exchange gifts at a different time, this can be a thoughtful gesture that lets them know you are thinking about them while they are away. Consider a special food item, a gift card for an experience or something else meaningful that the whole family can share in. Understanding that those may not always be feasible, a note to both your kids and their in-laws can be a special way to let them know you are thinking of them and are thankful they have time together to grow their special relationship.
Be present when they are with you
What does that mean? Simply put, set aside your life… just for that short time. Friends, chores, even work, when possible, can be set aside for a brief time so you can spend intentional time with your kids. One thing I appreciated about my parents is that they led very active lives, but they were always all in when we were at their house. It was as though the world revolved around us. It wasn’t unhealthy – our kids had rules at their house – but it was a time full of love and laughter. This can be whatever your family enjoys. For us its cooking together, playing lots of board games, and spending time around the pool. Be sure to plan some activities ahead of time so you are prepared and not sitting around saying “What should we do?” but also leave time for spontaneous moments and activities.
God blessed you with your children and now He’s blessed them with a life of their own. He has blessed them with people to share it with and that is something to give thanks for.
Grateful & Blessed, Donna