I was part of an interesting discussion on social media recently. A grieving mom had posted about the decision made by her adult children regarding the Christmas holidays this year. Their plan meant they’d not be present with her and her hubby on Christmas Day. Instead, they will spend it with the families of their spouses, and then arrive for a late celebration a couple of days after the holiday.
Many other moms joined the discussion, expressing similar experiences and acknowledging how painful it was. What struck me was how often these women blamed themselves for not being the mom their kids would want to come home to. “I thought we were really aclose-knit family,” one woman shared. “I guess I was wrong.”
These sweet mamas pronounced themselves “failures” because their grown sons or daughters would choose to spend the holiday with their in-law families rather than the “people who raised them.” Heartbreaking. And so not true.
My response to that sadness was simple: it’s probably not about you at all, so don’t pick up the guilt of inadequacy quite yet. It’s okay to be disappointed. But let’s be honest, unless there’s been bad blood or difficult family drama in the past, it’s most likely the balancing act couples must play at the holidays: Christmas Eve with HIS family, Christmas Day with HER family, alternating Thanksgiving each year with Easter, and so on. It’s a complex schedule.
It might be finances that keep them from coming, or the desire to finally have a Christmas Eve in their own home. The in-law family may due to host them or they might be applying pressure or guilt. The first year I decided to invite both my folks and his family for Christmas Day in our home, it nearly started World War III. But it all worked out. Eventually.
I have three sons; no pink in my tribe. I understood early that my role in their lives changed the day they married. God sent these boys to me to raise, but not to keep. I was never supposed to be the most important woman in their life. That may be a tough pill to swallow, but it’s God’s plan, not mine.
So if my son’s wife (or a daughter’s husband) takes that top spot, their family becomes part of the equation. I’d love to have all of my sons, their wives, and my grandsons home for every holiday, but it’s not only unrealistic, it’s not fair. Those other mamas should be honored as well.
So if you find yourself in this situation this year, here are three tips for dodging the self-blame and keeping it all in perspective.
- Be flexible. We’ve done Christmas early, and we’ve celebrated after the holiday. We’ve come to the conclusion we enjoy spending the time together when the hoopla and crazy pace of the actual day has passed. Less pressure, more fun. It’s the time together that matters, not the specific day.
- Be gracious. What if the kids want to go snorkeling this year in Hawaii instead of attending any family gathering? Drive them to the airport and wish them sweet aloha for their getaway time. Couples – of all ages – need to recharge and holidays provide the chance for time away. Wish them well, offer to keep the kids and feed their dog while they’re gone. Their marriage will benefit from the boost.
- Be grateful. Many are alone – for every holiday. They have no family. If God has blessed you with children, acknowledge the gift of their presence in your life if not in your home this year. There will be other opportunities.
This is the first year we will not have all three of our sons and their families together at some point during the season. So my hubby and I will travel to visit one couple in mid-December and do an early celebration with another son before they head out to visit her family. On Christmas Day we’ll be with our third son and his family in their home – not ours. Another first. We are looking for a place to volunteer that day as well.
It will be a different kind of holiday. But different’s not wrong, it’s just different. Most important though is not to beat yourself up if your celebration will not look like the Christmas card image we all have in our head. Comparison is about making you feel inferior and that’s no way to honor the Lord.
After all, it’s not about us. It’s about the birth of our King who came to us that night, His parents far from their families and all they had known. And look how well that turned out.