The holiday season is upon us. For most of us, that means a chance to celebrate with family and friends. However, the holidays can be difficult times, particularly for people who have experienced a change in their life or family structure.
The death of a parent or spouse represents a significant life change. So is separation, divorce, remarriage, newly empty nest or changes in an adult child’s life, such as relocation for employment or marriage.
The changes can affect holiday and other celebrations. Families need to allow some time to think through how they can retain a sense of family yet also adapt to change. This may be a good time to think outside of the traditional celebration ritual. Families need to start early and talk to each other; communication and a willingness to compromise can help families stay connected and preserve traditions that are meaningful to them.
For example, a family that may have lost a parent may elect to share a meal at a restaurant, rather than at the family home. The change in location can acknowledge the life change that occurred and maybe be a necessary part of grieving for the loss. Once the family moves through the grieving process, perhaps they will want to return to celebrating the holiday in a familiar kitchen with warm memories of the lost family member.
A change in marital status can bring a different kind of pain, but one that also requires a grieving process and change. A couple’s children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all may feel a sense of loss and also grieve for the couple’s relationship. Should a couple try to share a holiday for the sake of others? Expect children to eat two Thanksgiving dinners? Or alternate holidays?
Though the pain of such changes may be new, couples are encouraged to maintain communication and to be realistic about holiday expectations.
Alternating holidays or choosing another day and designating it your family holiday can allow a family to enjoy time together with less stress. Such a plan also can be helpful to couples whose parents pressure them to be present at every holiday.
Re-thinking expectations and, yes, even letting go of the goal for a picture-perfect holiday can relieve the pressure. Here are some tips:
— Talk about what’s important — which traditions mean the most? What is no longer necessary?
— Plan early so that everyone will know what to expect.
— Recognize that change can be good. For example, making a potluck meal divides the workload and the expense.
— Keep it simple.
In the years to come, families are more likely to remember the personalities — the aunt who never tired of playing board games or grandfather who lovingly teased with a twinkle in his eye — rather than the food or a table decoration. It’s the people and the connection that count.
The holidays are meant as a time for celebration and joy. Keep in mind that the holidays can be depressing and stressful, have patience with yourself and your loved ones through this busy, chaotic season that is meant to be joyful.