It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas, indeed, but smoldering beneath the festive twinkle lights, there seems to be a pervasive sense of unhappiness associated with family holiday gatherings. Do you hear what I hear? Scores of adult kids don’t want to go home for the holidays. Is Christmas without you, your adult child’s wish this year? Sadly, this is a common circumstance, and far too many parents are none the wiser.

As a recently inducted ‘empty nester,’ being surrounded by my brood is truly all I want for Christmas, and I intentionally employ a few principles to ensure I don’t have a blue Christmas without them.

Here are some precious gifts of wisdom I’ve acquired over time during my personal journey as a mom. Please unwrap them with care, take them to heart and enjoy a new dimension of peace and joy with your loved ones this holiday season…

1. Parents, remove your expectations — Expectations create angst in relationships. Begin the holiday season by erasing all expectations from everyone involved this year. Now folks, I could stop right there, but for some of you dyed-in-the-wool, traditional types, I will elaborate…

2. Put the kibosh on the dreaded adult gift exchange — Every kiss does not begin with Kay® and most of us don’t need any additional material possessions, so why not eliminate this habitual pain in the Christmas arse from your adult family festivities and see what results? No debt, no ‘perfect gift search’ anxiety, no miserable lines at the mall, no competition, no wrapping, no returns, no shame.

A healthy relationship to my children and their presence in my life is the ‘present’ I most long for and the gift I’m willing to pay the price to realize.

Without a drumroll or an attitude, let the kids know you’re not expecting (there’s that word again!) a thing, would prefer no gifts for Christmas, and you’d rather they spend their hard-earned dough on something they need. And if you still want to bless them with a few crisp greenbacks or that perfect item you’ve had your eye on for them, feel free! Just don’t drop any hints beforehand.

3. Set the captives free — Hovering parents, take note. You are likely not in touch with your obsessive nature to micro-manage every detail, thus smothering your brood. We must address our tendency to control if we want to leave room for our kids to function in freedom.

If there isn’t freedom in our presence, they will run and hide, not just at the holidays, but every single day of the year. When Grandma got run over by a reindeer and the family was rejoicing, me thinks she was of a domineering sort!

4. Beware the big chill — The temperature’s dropping all across the U.S. this time of year, but let’s make sure it’s not cold inside, too! Mama, your mood and attitude will set the tone whether it’s a warm glow of love emanating from the heart of your home, or a cold chill driving the kids away. Trust me, there’s a troll living under the bridge of every woman’s soul. We have to work hard at resisting her desire to manifest. Don’t find yourself the subject of this song…

You’re a mean one, Mrs. Grinch

You really are a heel.

You’re as cuddly as a cactus,

And as charming as an eel.

5. Reign in your inner ‘foodie’ — Yes, we are a culture of foodies, but if we try too hard, applying pressure to those involved to make everything perfect to our satisfaction, the joy can be lost. So if Junior forgets his assigned ingredient and you don’t have those farm-raised, organic, non-GMO chestnuts roasting on an open fire this Christmas Eve, all is not lost! Pop some popcorn with a smile, and feast on love.

6. Redefinefamily’– There are friends and acquaintances outside the Sacred Idolized Family Unit who are alone this Christmas, and would love to be included at your dinner table or other family festivities. Open your heart and your home to welcome ‘outsiders’ who are on you or your kids’ hearts. I find, more often than not, the presence of that widowed neighbor, single Army dude or the kids’ roomie enhances our together times and adds a dimension we hadn’t expected. Ask your kids, “Is there anyone you’d enjoy having with us over the holidays?” and see if you can joyfully accommodate their request in some form or fashion.

7. Respect the fact that your babies are grown-ups now — Your son’s in double digits buying his own toilet paper and paying for his own gas. It’s no longer your job to make him write a thank-you note to grandma, grandpa, auntie or uncle for the gifts. It’s not your responsibility, and quite frankly, it’s none of your business.

8. Cancel your married kids’ dreaded marathon— The last thing I’d want to do on Christmas Day is drive across town thrice, fighting traffic and yelling at the tired munchkins in the backseat. ‘Twil not make the season bright! Why then do we expect this of our adult children?? Remove the presssuurrrre, mom and dad.

Relieve the kids of all responsibility to see you on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Did hell just freeze over? Was that blasphemy? No, but my kids want to be with me during the holidays, so maybe you should stop judging and keep reading.

My married children routinely alternate holidays with the opposite sides of the family. I’m not offended and I don’t pout. It’s not about you, Mama and Daddy, or one single last chance, this-calendar-day-only, holiday. It’s about goodwill and family and serving one another in love and just to key you in, much of the bending and serving is historically done by us — that’s why we’re the parents!

9. Remember that relationships are more important than traditions— Is it time to let go a few of your stubborn traditions? Last Thanksgiving, we (GASP!) cooked and ate our entire ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving feast a day early for the benefit of all parties involved. It was remarkably peaceful, freeing, and we all had a keen sense of wicked satisfaction the next day, thinking of you stressing out over your turkey temperature as we peacefully heated leftovers, played games and let football run all day on the big screen.

Some years we’ve eaten holiday dinners at a restaurant…I know you’re shaking your head, but it was fabulous, easy and fun. Then we drank egg nog lattes and played board games at a coffee shop before we headed to a movie.

Traditions can be comforting and therapeutic to the soul, unless they become lifeless laws, sucking our joy.

10. Quash all judging, critiquing and perfecting— Is a silent night exactly what your kids need from you this Christmas? Bite your tongue, folks. Repeat. Maybe even get the tattoo. Do you think I’m kidding?!

And while you’re at it, watch your voice tones, helpful suggestions, glares, rolling eyes and all the other tools you use to serve up a side of guilt with that prime rib dinner, giving the whole crew serious indigestion. I’m laughing out loud now, but it’s really not funny if it’s true.

11. Ban family gossip — So your kid smokes and it smells and you’re embarrassed. And their Facebook posts curl Grandma’s hair. Well grandma’s fat and you overspend and worry too much about what everyone else thinks.

Each of us is flawed.

What’s worse, people pleasing, cigarettes, donuts or debt? If you want to be legalistic about it, the consequences of eating poorly will kill more people this year than the effects of smoking cigarettes. Fact. And encouraging gossip amongst the tribe is divisive and destructive to your family. So put that in your pipe and smoke it with your holiday ham!

12. Let all that you do, be done in love — Love isn’t a feeling or a sentimental idea. Love is costly. It is kind and patient and longsuffering and sacrificial. My love as a parent compels me to place the best interests of my children and grandchildren above my own perceived needs, without expecting anything in return. A merry little Christmas with my contented, affectionate kids always trumps a grand affair with no love.

If this is your modus operandi each day of the year, and you work in these very practical ways at cultivating your priceless relationships with your children, I guarantee you’ll find spontaneous celebrations occurring throughout the year that rival any Christmas day you’ve experienced.

 

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