The greatest fun of Christmas holidays is everyone coming back home. But what a load of work for the parents who are confronted with this newly jammed household invasion! There's not just the getting used to the crowd and the noise but also the amount of added chores that feeding and housing the expanded family brings.
So the answer is everyone share the work, right? Well, not so fast. This familiar but new dynamic as kids grow and parents age presents a new landscape where old rules don't always work and feelings of resentment can trump the feelings of joy at being together again.
In this big return -- recreating the old hearth and home with the original players -- the joy of everyone being together again challenges the family to find new ways to share this time that doesn't burden the aging parents and keeps the spirit of togetherness. The returning used-to be-kids sometimes slip into their old, dependent, cared-for mode while the parents revert to the "I'm in charge, you're my kids, and this needs to be done now" -- roles familiar to both sides from the good old days.
Time has gone by, those "kids" are now grown adults accustomed to living their own lives, being in charge, making their own rules. They've developed into other people than the parents still remember. A hard pill for parents to swallow but necessary to move forward with a growing extended family. Children have enjoyed their independence and the feeling of being of charge. And Mom and Dad have also changed -- they're older, a little less able, and accustomed to their simpler routines which they can manage on their own.
And just how does this effect the division of labor? The good news is there's usually a child or two who has reached the "aha moment," and realizes that mom and dad can't do everything themselves anymore. Maybe he or she has some kids of their own and realize how much effort and energy that mom (and dad) put into these gatherings and understands mom and dad are getting older and that they need to lend a helpful hand. And maybe they even encourage their own children to participate: setting the table, or assigning them age-appropriate chores.
So everyone needs to adjust and give up a little control to celebrate and cherish the honored traditions. And in this more egalitarian world where men are being raised differently and sharing in the division of labor and even enjoying their place in the kitchen, the expanded family takes on a new definition and models a new dynamic for the next generation.
And what's the message?
If there's no wake up call from the children then parents need to find their voice and ask for help so that resentment doesn't disturb the precious moments that holidays offer to share in these traditions.
And they all lived happily ever after.