How to cope when the holidays aren’t what you expected…
Maybe it’s because of my age or my family circumstances, but every year I coach a lot of women who are coping with disappointing holiday plans. The conversation usually starts like this;
- I feel like all the holiday traditions that I worked so hard to establish have vanished.
- I’m feeling really left out of family times. My children are grown with their own families and I feel like the outsider.
- I’ve always looked forward to the holidays but everything is so different this year. I’m trying to be understanding and supportive but instead I’m really feeling alone and sorry for myself this holiday season.
- I feel like my children just appreciate me when I can babysit the grand-kids so they can do other things.
Most of the time this is shared as though it were an embarrassing secret. We’ve all heard about Christmas being a difficult and lonely time for other people but we never thought it would happen to us. After all we’ve spent years creating memories with our families; cooking holiday dinners, shopping for just the right gifts, hosting family gatherings and sharing good times. What happened? And more importantly what can we do about it?
If I took a guess about what is behind this trend, I imagine I would find that it is something that each generation goes through as they get older. Adult children who are married are often pulled in two different directions with their own families and their in-laws. Add to that young children to focus much of the holiday season around and someone is going to be left out unless there is a very intentional effort to do otherwise. Most of the women that I talk to understand the balancing act that their married children have to perform. After all they’ve had to do it themselves. However, they’ve never been in the position of waiting to be included because they’ve previously been in a position of planning and creating the festivities. They were always they hostess, not the guest.
I think the solution is to open communication and create a plan for the future instead of waiting, hinting and hoping someone will notice that you are wishing things were different. As in most relationship problems, the key is to have that crucial conversation that can make a difference. Here’s how:
Set up a time to discuss your concerns. This is the most difficult step and obviously one that is often either avoided or handled badly. Here’s what this is not: a time to vent how lonely and left out you feel. It’s not a time to take your child on a guilt trip or make them feel sorry for you. Instead this is a time to tell them how special they are to you and consequently how you’d like to be a significant part of their holiday celebration. Ask, “What can I do to help you during the holiday season to create positive memories for all involved?”
Suggest a plan and take an active part in making it happen. This is the second step and a critical one to ensure that you aren’t having the same conversation next year. Don’t wait to be invited to participate. Instead, suggest ways that you would like to be involved. Maybe you don’t want to start hosting the family dinners for every extended relative as you did in the past. However, you would like to plan a small dinner for just the family and grand-kids. Maybe you’d rather have a tradition of going to a show together, a church service or some other activity. Be flexible. Everything doesn’t have to happen on Christmas eve or Christmas day. While you are at it, plan for ways to stay involved the whole year through so that you aren’t trying to pack a year’s worth of memories and family interaction into one season of the year.
Crucial conversations that identify problems and correct them are uncomfortable. They challenge us to move outside of our typical reactionary feelings and be open to new experiences. To create the holiday season that you wish for, you must create a dialogue that benefits you and the rest of the family members.
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