Anticipating the holiday season can bring an array of emotions, thoughts and expectations.
You might love family traditions, reflecting with joy and that warm tingly feeling in your body. You know it as a season where everyone is happy (well, mostly) and can't wait for jammie days, movie marathons, board games and probably a little (lot) of holiday food. It's wonderful!
Alternatively, you might cringe a little as you begin to plan what the holidays could look like this year. Your kids are older, some of them may have a significant other and their time is split. It's possible the cost of travel means your university or grown and working-out-of-town kids are unable to come home this year. Can we pause for a moment and notice the sadness and disappointment you might feel. Rather than pushing away tears, or avoiding that heavy feeling in your body, give yourself permission to sit in the discomfort of any emotion you're noticing. Sometimes, allowing the uncomfortable emotion - while it feels a bit scary - is the most compassionate thing you can do. It is more healing than avoiding or pushing it down. And if it feels too scary to do this on your own, please connect with a counsellor or a trusted friend!
Another way to begin processing the experience of kids not coming home, changed tradition and these mixed emotions is to be curious about where your disappointment (or other emotions) really lie. Here are a few questions to consider...
- Are you noticing some hurt? While part of you knows your grown kids are their own humans wanting to spread their wings, you might be a bit hurt that they have chosen something (or someone) over you.
- Could you be grieving the loss of their younger years and the predictability that came with knowing who would be around the table or under your roof? Beginning to accept that your kids have other parts that need connection outside of their family of origin and outside of these traditions can sting.
- Did they communicate their plans via Instagram? Gah!! Is there a little anger because you thought a phone call was the least they could do!?
- Are you worried...even a little anxious...because this might be the beginning of a whole new season of holiday change? That is very uncomfortable. Uncertainty about how this season might play out can feel overwhelming in some moments.
As incredibly difficult as it may feel, beginning to explore and understand how your role as a parent is changing, might be the healthiest thing for your relationship. As they grow, you are now more of a consultant of sorts, to them. When they were itty bitty, your role was that of a caretaker. You shifted to a coaching role as they grew up and now, they will come to you wanting some advice, friendship, and support. While these moments will make your heart soar, it's possible the other moments (like choosing not to come home for the holidays) will do the opposite. Keeping this perspective in mind might be helpful.
Supporting them by being happy for them and their independence might be the best (and hardest) thing you can do for this relationship. And, it's okay to be happy for them and sad for yourself. It can seem difficult, but those two emotions can coexist. They can, however. The more you can give your (grown) child the space to make decisions on their own, and experience the consequences (good and hard), the more they will continue to expand their capacity to appreciate and value their relationship with you.
There are so many emotions encapsulated within any holiday season - a whole array core emotions can be experienced, seemingly all at once! If you're noticing that you're struggling to navigate some of these, reaching out to a counsellor might be supportive, insightful and healing. You can feel heard, safe to process in a nonjudgemental space and begin to navigate this experience so you too, can soak in even a little joy. I believe all humans are wired for healing. While this season might have caught you off-guard, please do reach out to connect...it might be the most compassion gift you can offer yourself.