En español | Festivities and family gatherings will punctuate the holiday season through New Year's Day. Even in families with generally good relationships, touchy issues can crop up for parents of millennials, especially those who want a holiday trip with friends or have kiddies of their own and in-laws.
While decades of cherished memories warm our hearts, the growing family means that some of those traditions must change to accommodate the wishes and plans of our adult children. So, how to plan celebrations without setting ourselves up for hurt and disappointment when plans don't turn out the way we expected? I checked in with Kathy McCoy, a family therapist and author of several books, including Making Peace With Your Adult Children.
Commit to being flexible and minimizing expectations. "It's a good way to start and avoid hurt feelings on both sides," McCoy says.
Put yourself in your adult child's place. "Young marrieds are often torn," McCoy says. "They may have in-laws and divorced parents and are trying to please everyone. Ask yourself, 'How can I enjoy my child and at the same time not put undue stress on them?' "
Speak up now. Ask your adult children ahead of time what will work for them instead of imposing a plan on them. Suggested phrasing: "What's going to work for you this year so we all can have a good holiday?"
Find a compromise. McCoy has a friend whose daughter and her husband have very busy lives and want to spend Christmas Eve and Day alone with their small children, making their own memories. So McCoy's friend opens presents with her daughter and grandchildren on Dec. 23.
Make new traditions. Now on Dec. 25 that same woman and her husband lounge around the house in their pajamas reading and order in Chinese food. "After some initial disappointment, she actually finds the day is divine," McCoy says.
Call a truce. Relationships that are already fraught can be particularly tough during holidays. "Perhaps your child married someone you don't like," McCoy says. "At least extend an invitation to the adult child and spouse. Whatever they decide, it's critical to show a willingness to be inclusive; to not do that is taking a step toward estrangement."
As Elsa sings in Frozen, "Let it go." If the season doesn't fulfill your dreams, don't hang onto resentment into January and beyond. "We have no power over the choices our adult children make," McCoy says. "However, we do have control over our reactions to the choices. If we can let go — even a little — of our expectations that our children will be more attentive, we can give ourselves the freedom to enjoy life without them or to enjoy them more when they do call or visit."