Rethinking Holiday Traditions (Part II)

Rethinking Holiday Traditions (Part II)
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Part I of this two – part series focused on the cultural shifts driven by mobility, divorces and separations, retirement finances, estrangement, and other elements which make replicating our 1950’s family holiday memories difficult to achieve. We long to go ‘over the river and through the woods’ arriving at grandma’s house for a holiday gathering where cookies are on a plate waiting for us to nibble and pumpkin pies are baking in the oven.

For many families, however, reality borders on a scene from a Sam Shepard play – unresolved family conflicts and resentments boil beneath the surface making spontaneous participation difficult for those in attendance. It would be easy to add the current political climate to the mix for this discussion, but I’m sticking with family focused ideas here. These thoughts are intended to help contemporary grandparents step delicately through the holiday season and into a new year with their emotional well-being intact.

In Part I, the following ideas were discussed in detail:

  • Stop the power struggle. Making an argument of, we’ve always done it this way, will not help you get your way when planning a celebration.
  • Spend less money. Prepare a budget and stick to it. This is particularly true for those on a fixed, reduced or limited income. Keep emotions out of financial decisions.
  • Family pictures. When taking pictures of your own grandchildren, be sure and include step-grandchildren. Most of us are part of blended families at this stage of our lives. Be sensitive to the feelings of those children who might feel like outsiders.

What else can Grandparents do to ease their peace of mind during holiday pressures?

Be open to change and stay flexible. There is not one – not one!—example in nature where elements stay the same forever. Leaves change color and drop in the fall; snakes shed their skins; sunrise is followed by sunset; and the sun comes out after a rain storm. Flexibility is the key to survival. When my adult twin daughters were six, their father and I separated. My children and I moved out of his home and we faced our first Christmas with very different family circumstances. The decision was made our daughters would spend Christmas with him in order to offer some holiday continuity for them. Each subsequent year, creative holiday planning occurred – and continues to this day, some thirty – plus years later.

Be happy for your grandchildren. I think it is very normal to feel a twinge of jealously if other (or new) family members spend time with your grandchildren on a holiday. Acknowledge if you feel that way, but remind yourself: there are never too many people to love our grandchildren. Your grandchildren will learn a variety of people can love them and contribute to their lives. Not a bad lesson in a society where social isolation is on the rise.

Travel or seek out a friend. Yes, there are practical, financial limitations to travel during the holidays. Even if you just travel next door to visit a neighbor who is ‘orphaned’ from their family at this time, the human contact helps ease any feelings of loss if you are not participating in a family celebration. There is tremendous value in peer relationships.

Laughter. Find something to laugh about. Indeed, laughter is the best medicine.

Steer clear of holiday music if it brings up too many memories and feelings of sadness. If the incessant holiday tunes (which start after Halloween!) lower your mood, listen to something else. The fact music influences our disposition is not an accident. There is a reason why more hospitals, dentists and cancer treatment centers are increasing patients’ exposure to music. Music touches the most primitive parts of our brains and changes our mood. Put on vibrant upbeat music reflective of how you would like to feel.

A work about Estrangement: Estrangement between Boomer Parents/Grandparents and their adult children and grandchildren is increasing at a tremendous rate. This growing societal problem has many causes and is too complex for a blog of this length. Notably, the shame associated with this family fracture (especially the shame felt by grandmothers and mothers) limits the willingness of people to talk about it and seek out help.

Estranged parents or grandparents experience debilitating sadness during the holidays as they relive memories of an intact family and long for reconnecting with adult children (and absent grandchildren) who are not predisposed to reunification. Helping estranged parents or grandparents find comfort in the relationships they do have, while navigating overwhelming sadness during the holidays, is a goal of therapists, clergy, close friends and family members. If you are an estranged parent or grandparent (or know of one) proactively seek out online or community resources so you know you are not alone. Developing skills to validate your self-worth, especially at a time when self-worth is measured by family connections, is critical to transitioning to a new year.

For more, go to:

Ms. Barnes will conduct 2018 workshops on Estrangement at the ICCFR Conference in Malta, February, 2018 and the AFCC Conference in Washington, DC, June, 2018.

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