Traditions, Flexibility, and Guilt

A dear friend shared with me the other day that, once she finally understood that all holidays could be a “movable feast,” she really began to enjoy this time of year.

As we get older, things change. Some things get easier, but some things get more complex and seem really, really difficult.  

Changes in family traditons over the holidays can feel like a loss, but we can make the decision to see things differently.  If we can surrender our grip on what the holidays are “supposed to” look like, we have a better shot at enjoying the celebrations.

Remember when you were younger and someone in the generation right above you just had to make a stink about where and when you were showing up to eat or visit or go to church or whatever?

I don’t want to be that person for my children or the people they love.

Do you?

It’s time to accept it — the kids are growing up and moving on. They love new people and those people have their own holiday traditions and schedules. Or perhaps there are step-families and bonus families to love and spend time with, and that really adds to the scheduling challenges, conflicts, and potential drama.

People live in other states, in other countries, and air travel over the holidays is difficult and expensive. People have jobs that may or may not allow enough time to get away for the holidays.  Or perhaps the people we love just don’t want to use their hard-earned time and money to come visit during this crazy time of year.

And as I watch all this swirl around me, I remember the look of disdain on the faces of those whom I was trying to please all those years ago and I just can’t bring myself to repeat that power-play on the younger ones in my family.

I don’t really care what day I get to love on my guys and those they love. I want them to feel love and joy wherever they go, and if I can add to that by “freeing them” to go somewhere else on any given day, I’m going to do that. (By the way, they’re not mine to “free.”)

It will be a quiet holiday at our house this year. One of my man-cubs is going here, the other two are going there.  Two of my three bonus man-cubs still haven’t checked in with their plans, and to all that I say, “Whatever!”

The Italian and I will wake up on Thanksgiving morning, share some coffee, and talk about how lucky we are to be making this big new adventure together.

At some point, over the next few days, I suppose some of his and some of mine will make their way to our house and I will cook something for all of them and they will do the dishes.

I’m thankful. I’m surrendered. I’m letting people – including myself – off the hook about holiday expectations.

I’m completely dodging the “resentment bullet” about what this holiday season is supposed to look like. And I’ve made a commitment to allow myself to feel peace and gratitude and joy no matter what anyone else is or isn’t doing over the coming weeks.

I’m not giving guilt and I’m not receiving it either.

Who knew? It was my choice all along.

Love, Jennifer

P.S. I wish you every joy this holiday season.  If you’d like, please share something you’re grateful for this holiday season in the comments below. I’ll start – “I’m thankful for Beautiful You. I didn’t know you last year. And I’m so happy we’ve met!”

Photo: flickr, Robert S. Donovan

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33 Responses to Traditions, Flexibility, and Guilt

  1. Stuart Young says:

    So true, the expectations we put on ourselves and others can lead to a lot of heartache. Let’s demand less of ourselves at these times, save the push for our ambitions and goals. Sometimes doing less gets more achieved. 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      Thank you, Stuart! I’m sort of in a “demand nothing” of self stage, so even the word “ambition” exhausted me a bit. I have to trick myself into that kind of stuff by calling it “dream” or “vision” or something like that there.

      Thank you so much for your beautiful wisdom. Jen

  2. didi says:

    sorry Stuart but whatever i wanted to say evaporated when i saw a guy ( you are a guy right?) reading a blog called ‘life after tampons’ wtf stuart are you trying to get in touch with your inner middle aged woman or are you just weird?

    • Jennifer says:

      Didi, we actually have a really large percentage of readers who are men, and, as a woman who has loved men her whole life, I certainly welcome them here!!!

      When I first started writing here, I made all my man-cubs “like” my page on Facebook. Imagine what that caused when all these high school boys started having Life After Tampons show up in their Facebook feeds. (Now all their friends read LAT, too.)


  3. Peggy K says:

    This is, by far, the best holiday post I’ve read!! This says it all. I got the chills reading this. Hope you don’t mind that I’m sending everyone here to read this!!!

    “I’m not giving guilt and I’m not receiving it either. Who knew? It was my choice all along.” Beautiful, just flippin’ beautiful!!!!

  4. Cate says:

    Wow. This is exactly the message I needed today. Our 20-year-old daughter is spending Thanksgiving with a college friend instead of us. Which I am OK with. Barely. But she is also “not sure of her plans” for Christmas. Christmas! This I am having a problem with. A lot. Her dad, too. This post is showing me that even if I am sad that things have changed, it will still be Christmas and we will all still love each other. Still not happy about it, but I’m closer to letting it (and her) go.

  5. Shi Feliciano says:

    This is the 1st time in 5 years we’ve had extended family join us for Thanksgiving. After reading your article, I’m feeling especially thankful !
    Thank you for sharing it:)

  6. Cheryl says:

    Why do we feel that on a holiday “all family must be present” in order for us to enjoy the day? I wish that my own mother could see this post and free herself. Instead she still lays on the guilt when I tell her we won’t be at her home for a holiday. Do we really have to have a holiday to enjoy the presence of each other? My 21 year old that has not lived at home for a couple of years now is invited for every holiday but never made to feel that she has to be present “or else”.

    • Colleen says:

      Wow, Cheryl, can I relate!!!! I don’t know if it is a generational thing or a letting go thing or what. One year at Christmas I told my mom that we (husband, son and I) were not going to be “home” for Christmas. The drama that ensued for months thereafter was unbelieveable! I was charged with “ruining her Christmas” and that I better never do that again. Yes, believe it or not.
      Fast forward a few years and my family of 3 have decided that we are not going to be home for Christmas. I haven’t even dared broach the subject again for fear of the drama and guilt that I will have to endour. How is it possible to enjoy time with family when there are so many rules and regulations surrounding it?
      I am just glad that I get to have the Christmas I want this year with the people who mean the most to me in this world – my husband and son!

      • Jennifer says:

        Yep. Please see earlier comment about being a “trained seal” in those kinds of situations. And Cheryl, you could just copy your mom on the post. Happy beautiful Thanksgiving to both of you!!! Love, Jen

  7. Jennifer says:

    I’ve decided to embrace and anticipate these holidays without the kids. The best gift I can give them is to share their excitement at planning their own new traditions as they’ve scattered across the country. I don’t want to be the mother who whines and feels sorry for herself. I’m excited for this Thanksgiving, with no one here…… My husband and I will hunker down with delicious food, relaxation, and together time for ourselves. There may be a jacuzzi involved, maybe a few movies we haven’t seen, and maybe a long walk or two.

    It may not seem nice, but at least two of the four kids won’t be “home” for Christmas, either, and to tell you the truth, I’m sort of hoping all of them have plans. We’re closing on our dream lake home up north in a few weeks, and I’d really like to spend Christmas there and sit in front of the fireplace, and go snowshoeing, and nap and make love when we feel like it…..You get the picture.

    I’m happy my kids are so happy away from us. I don’t think it was always easy for them at the holidays, with remarried parents, a single parent, extended family. They had to make decisions on where to be and when, and which parent to disappoint.

  8. Debbie says:

    Cate, if she is your only child, I can understand how hard it can be not to have her with you on Christmas. My husband and I ended up alone the Christmas after he got home from Iraq. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and ruining the holiday for both of us, we decided to create a day just for us. We got up and opened our presents, fixed the breakfast we wanted, had a movie marathon that day and created a meal we could easily eat in front of the tv as we got hungry. There was no big Christmas meal to fix and it became a relaxing day for the both of us. We talked to the kids and shared Christmas that way. If y’all are going to be alone, find ways to make it special for just the two of you. Jen, I always enjoy what you write. Somehow, you have a knack to talk about what is going on in so many lives at that time. Thank you!

  9. Bonnie says:

    Please remember those who would like to have a family to invite or be with for the holiday season. Both my parents died the week of Thanksgiving and my husband’s parents are gone too. With the conscious decision to not have children in this lifetime and a sister who’s schedule does not provide her the chance to travel on holidays, the holiday season is a “season of two” for me and my husband. I never feel sorry for myself though since I never bought into the media portrayal of the holidays. Yet every so often, it would be nice to to still have that choice to be with immediate family. BTW, this year I’m not “doing” turkey, trying an organic roasting chicken – easier and it always feels good to “rebel” a bit at the holidays! Wishing everyone a delicious and delightful Thanksgiving day!

    • Jennifer says:

      Bonnie, it’s funny how we get to revisit our choices again and anew. And, it’s also ironic how, no matter what you have, the other thing can sometimes sound better. When motherhood has been tricky at times, you can bet that I have envied my sisters who were child-free. Even though I was on some period of bedrest for each of my boys and you can’t imagine a mother who wanted her boys more.

  10. Cate says:

    Well, we do have another child (16) and she is not amused that her sister isn’t going to be around for Christmas, either. I guess we were not prepared for this possibility because it’s not like she has a boyfriend and wants to spend the holiday with him or that she has her own place, or even that her college is far away and she wants to stay there. She is an hour’s drive away. It’s hard not to take it personally–but it really isn’t personal…she is testing her wings. She is asking, “What if?” “What if I don’t go home for Christmas? What will that be like? What will happen?” Maybe she is preparing herself (and us) for what it will be like when she is truly out on her own. Maybe this is a safe way for her to test that. And this post is helping me to understand that and cope with it.

    • Jennifer says:

      I love this reframe. And your older daugher is modeling for your younger one that really tricky space between “to thine own self be true” and “loving others means serving them.”

  11. Carol Hess says:

    As a single woman with no children, no parents, and no siblings, holidays used to be something to just get through. If I wasn’t invited to join in on someone else’s holiday, then I felt like the biggest loser and most unloved person on the planet. And if I was invited, I felt like the biggest fifth wheel on the planet. Either way, I pretty much set myself up to be miserable.

    And then I realized, just as you have Jen, that I had a choice. I could choose a different attitude and a different belief system — one that served me far better than the woe is me sad sack that I invited to the holiday party every year. So I did. Holidays still aren’t my favorite time of year, but they also aren’t a giant endurance test either.

    I’m thankful for my health and my relationship with my Higher Power. Without those two things, I have nothing. As for everything else that comes my way, that is the whipped cream on the pumpkin pie!

    Happy Holidays, Everyone!

    • Jennifer says:

      Oh, my, thank you for writing in. I wish you were here to come for supper and I promise you, you WOULD NOT have one moment to think of yourself as a 5th wheel, since we are all from the Isle of Misfit Toys ourselves. (don’t tell my guys I said that.)

  12. charlotte says:

    I learned this lesson a long time ago from my Mother. We had a large family and once my brother and sisters started marrying and having ‘other’ families to visit on the holidays, Mom decided that we could have our ‘holiday’ any day. We didn’t have to have Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day – it may have been moved a week before/after. The same rule applied to Christmas.
    It turned out that we had multiple holidays – the chance to eat, visit and simply enjoy the holidays at an easy pace. No more stress to get everyone together on THE holiday. This is also true for birthdays. Remove the emphasis on the date and we can all enjoy the celebration.

    • Jennifer says:

      And now you have beautiful memories to think on and create anew. I don’t know why we put such pressure on each other to perform on cue. To me, it taints the day somewhat, because of that “trained seal” element.

  13. This year this post means even more to me than it usually would, Jen. For the past 5 or 6 years everyone has been making the pilgrimage to our house because my dad, the patriarch of the family was experiencing ever-declining health. No one wanted to miss his “lasts”; last Thanksgiving, last Christmas, etc. This past October he finally lost his battle and passed and I think the entire family felt freed! We immediately all started to rethink the whole holiday exodus routine. My sister, who has made a 10 hour drive two or three times a year put on the brakes. My brother, who has dragged his family and all of their ‘stuff’ to stay for extended weekends, did the same thing. And they each invited our Mom to come and visit them! Yesterday I put her on a plane to Portland and next month I will put her on a plane to Seattle. Meanwhile, the step-children and their families will get to enjoy our company and attention a little more, and we will enjoy not having to work so hard. At first I thought I ‘had’ to drive her to Portland and Seattle. Then one day I woke up and said, “No, I do not have to do anything!” From someone who has been putting up a helluva balancing act for the past few years this was extremely liberating! No one could figure out why I wouldn’t want to ‘get out of Dodge’ just because I could! Ssshhhh! We won’t tell them! Love your heart, Jen!

    • Jennifer says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss, love. Transition holidays can be difficult, but also bittersweet. I love that you are honoring your own needs and taking care of yourself so beautifully. I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers. Love, Jen

  14. Sharon Grimley says:

    I am overwhelmingly happy to let the Christmas plans run into “whatever” mode. I admit, though, to finding it challenging when my parents and parents-in-law INSIST on all of the extended family being present on whichever date we choose to celebrate, to the point of indecision about the date because one or another family member or members can’t make it. The kids are growing up and travelling, or have other commitments already locked in (usually more fun ones!) and I will not force them to change those plans. Wish we could settle for a date that suits most, and run with it!

  15. Wishing everyone a happy and guilt free holiday!

  16. SherriS. says:

    It’s quirky fate that I needed to read these words of wisdom and I clicked on your blog today:)

    I am grateful that my twin-man-cubs, grandson and d-i-l are coming to celebrate Thanksgiving with hub and me on Saturday. I am trying to give up the idea of having my apartment decked for the holidays (which I do on Black Friday) but I need to focus more on enjoying this gathering of my family. (Son, GS & DIL are going to be away for 6 months and who knows where they will be after son does his basic training).

    I’m trying to focus on the now instead of how much I will miss them later.

    Happy Thanksgiving and again thanks for sharing your words of wisdom:)

  17. Lisa says:

    I love this post – as usual, you are spot on. Because you asked, I am going to share what I feel grateful for this year.

    Just like the nuns taught me, every Thanksgiving I count my blessings. It has been a worthy exercise, especially during those years that have been difficult.

    This year I am grateful for something I never thought much about before, something we all have to some extent. I am grateful for my curiosity. Ok, maybe it is just plain nosiness but let’s keep it positive.

    For many years, I believed things had to get better. I wondered what my life would look like. There are so many lives to be led and so many things that can happen. Would I ever be truly happy?

    Well today I am. Nothing is perfect and I have let go of the idea that it ever will be. But I am grateful, SO grateful, for the curiosity that has kept me going.

    And today, I’m also grateful for this LAT community to share these types of thoughts with.

  18. Pam says:

    Okay. It took me a few days to come around to this post. I read it soon after you posted, thought, “but I. But. Well.” But I WANT to see my kids and grandkids on the holiday. But Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I’ve given up Easter. Graciously stood back and said, “no. Please. Your mom is having an Easter hunt and giving Gold Krugerands in the prize eggs. Oh, and they are ALL prize eggs. By all means, go there. We’ll see you another day.” I’ve joked that we are Orthodox in reverse, because we do an Easter Egg hunt at my house the Sunday BEFORE Easter. You know, first. Before the kids are all burned out on hunting eggs. We do Christmas on Christmas without complaint. I’ve held onto Thanksgiving. Since my first child become seriously involved in 2005, I’ve worked with her family without issue or drama. They do it at 6:00. I do it at noon.” But my youngest DIL’s mom is a Drama Queen. (If you do not yet have married kids, brace yourselves. Your lives may bump up against some people you’d never, ever met otherwise, and this is not always a good thing.) She threw a temper tantrum about Thanksgiving. I decided to do it another day. My dil went to great lengths to talk her mom into doing it later, so we changed our plans again. Everyone was less than thrilled with me. My husbands’ two youngest sons are talking to us. It’s a mess.

    As I went through the holiday, and we did have a nice time, I kept thinking about this post. I don’t want to be THAT relative. And was I? My youngest dil says no, but at some point Thanksgiving Day, I made a decision. After my middle DIL spent the day texting her sisters, no doubt keeping them updated on how quickly they could leave. My oldest dil was correcting every word I said, and my husband and I were watching the clock enjoying everyone, trying to be polite, but knowing we weren’t going to make our own second celebration. We missed seeing my husband’s youngest son. He comes to town once a year, stays with his mom’s sister less than five miles from us, but he doesn’t come by. His wife doesn’t like us.

    Anyway. This is terribly incoherent. But I’m getting off the crazy train. I’m going to do Thanksgiving on the Sunday before or after Thanksgiving, depending on when my youngest son has his three kids who live with their mom. I will not mind spending the day alone with my husband, maybe going out to dinner. Maybe we can spend it with one of his kids or grands. Maybe we’ll go to the casino.

    The bottom line was really when I heard my 70 year old son being rejected on the phone by his youngest son. We may and probably will make other mistakes, but pressuring the kids into two celebrations won’t be one of them.

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