It’s the holidays again, and you know what that means! Lots of energy spent trying to make the season special, with the perfect gifts, the most beautiful decorations, a sumptuous feast, and family festivities for all generations. And that’s the rub. Getting together with our families all too often incites more friction than frivolity, despite the best of intentions. Many times, that’s due to disruptions in the delicate dynamic between grandparents, their adult children, and their grandchildren.
Many of us grandparents dream of carrying out special holiday traditions with our grandkids and feeling a real part of everything during this special season, only to find that our adult children and their spouses have very different ideas about how the holidays should unfold. And often, those different ideas don’t take our thoughts, dreams, or fantasies into account at all. Or maybe we don’t even allow ourselves to imagine having a Hallmark holiday because we feel we’re now relegated to sitting on the sidelines. It’s their holiday, we think to ourselves, feeling sad. We had ours when our kids were small, and now it’s their turn. But the truth is that it doesn’t take a modern-day miracle for all three generations to have a happy holiday together.
As grandparents, we have a different focus than we did when we were raising our kids. We now get the opportunity to act in a way that the parents can’t because… well, because they’re “the parents.” I remember holidays when my son was small. Between taking care of him, working full-time, shopping for presents (not to mention wrapping them and hiding them), decorating the house, baking Christmas cookies, and keeping up with what it normally takes to run a household, I was exhausted. Little wonder! Although I yearned to give my son the kind of special memories that he could hang on to throughout his childhood, I wasn’t able to be fully present with him “in the moment.”
But now, freed from the heavier aspects of parenting, we grandparents get to lighten up and have fun, create memories, and enjoy being that special someone in our grandchildren’s lives. We are in a wonderful place to give in a way we couldn’t do when our kids were young. But because we are the grandparents and not the parents, it’s important for us to respect the guidelines and traditions that our adult children and their spouses have set. After all, we want to be a welcome addition to their traditions, not a source of frustration!
So with that in mind, here are some handy tips to help you and your family have the grandest holiday ever:
- Be sure you’re clear about what the gift-giving rules are for your grandchildren. Ask their parents what they want and don’t want for their kids in terms of the type of gifts you give, how much you spend, how many gifts you hand out, and so on.
- Strive to know as much as you can in advance about what will be happening when and where. Don’t make any assumptions, because what happened last year may not have any bearing on this year’s plans. Ask for clarity, explaining that you want to be sure you understand how the holidays will unfold and where you fit into them.
- Don’t take anything too personally. Holidays are stressful for everyone, including your grown children. As parents and children, they are trying to please everyone, so have some compassion. If they want to create some of their own holiday traditions with your grandchildren, it’s not meant as a slight.
- Plan some activities to do with your grandchildren that don’t include monetary gifts. The best holiday memories your grandkids will ever have won’t be about what gifts you bought them. They’ll be about all the fun things you did with them and the time you spent together.
- Come up with a family tradition that’s just for you and your grandchildren. Create something that they will not only remember but also look forward to every year. You could decorate cookies together, decorate the tree, sing songs around the piano, drive around the neighborhood to see all the holiday light displays, catch a special holiday performance, or even volunteer to help fill gift baskets for those in need.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to do every tradition every year. Remaining flexible is key to a successful holiday with your family. Each year, ask your grandkids what holiday activities they want to do with you. If they name some of the things you’ve done with them before, you’ll know you’re building traditions they’ll appreciate and remember. But if they come up with totally new and different ideas for what they want to do with you, that’s still great because they’ll feel like they have a real hand in creating your special holiday memories. Either way, it’s a win-win-win-for all three generations.