Holidays are a beautiful magical time of celebration and family. Except when they are not. Holidays can seem a bit less magical when your teen or young adult child stops listening for reindeer on the roof and starts pushing back on family traditions.
When you are a lover of family traditions and pickled in holiday music (“There’s no place like home for the holidays”) this transition can be tough. It’s not the winsome little kid holiday experience of 5, 10, 15 years ago.
Surviving the holidays with teens
1. First do no harm.
The vision in most Christmas Carols and holiday advertisements is nice and cozy, with the entire smiling family gathered together. Maybe your life will match that, sometimes; but often it will not. Stay focused on your love for your family, and remember that sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to gracefully let go of some traditions and expectations.
“I’d love for you to be here, but I understand that it’s important to you to ______.” Say it like you mean it.
2. Be flexible with family traditions: Change is inevitable.
Your young adult is going to his partner’s house on Christmas Eve? Maybe you can have a Christmas Eve brunch. “Nothing must ever change” is a dangerous attitude that can breed resentment and end up pushing teens and young adult children away even more.
3. Check yourself:
If you are feeling frustrated or sad over holiday planning efforts: Are you being fair? Are you being respectful? Are you recognizing your growing child’s perspective? Talk about your feelings of loss or disappointment with your partner or friend, but don’t blackmail your loved ones with it.
4. Own it
If Christmas Eve mass is important to you, own its importance to you. It’s more effective and fair to say, “it would mean a lot to me if you came with me (or watched the virtual mass)” than to demand that they care deeply about the same things you value. Be honest about what matters most to you, and don’t draw the priority circle too big.
5. Be clear about expectations.
What is mandatory and what is optional? If everything is mandatory, you may be headed for a rebellion. If there is disagreement about plans, make it clear what is most important. With tweens and teens, some things are just mandatory.
It can really help to validate feelings though, even while staying firm on the expectation, “I hear you, you don’t enjoy Aunt Betty’s house and you would rather not go.” Be careful on the mandatory thing with young adults; your relationship well into the future will be stronger if you start to respect their adult status now.
6. Compromise: Toss out the idea that compromise equals weakness.
It does not. When it comes to teens and young adults, compromise can be the difference between tense power struggles and respectful solutions. If your 18 year-old drives, maybe she can drive herself and come later in the day to Uncle Dave’s. Maybe your son can go to a friend’s house for a bit on Christmas day as long as he helps make the pies the day before?
7. Accept that your babies are growing up/grown up
Maybe you are painfully missing the adorable little kids running down the stairs at 6 AM. The holidays are not as pure and simple as they used to be. The changes can be hard for your big kids too. Remind them of your love for them as the person they are now, and be honest and authentic about what you miss. “I love to see you growing up into this amazing adult, but I do miss the little you putting out cookies for Santa.
8. Be open to trying something new.
Maybe it would be cool to take one year off from the holidays at home and go on a trip. (The pandemic might make this one something to plan for the future.) Or maybe it is fair enough to ask someone else to host something you have always hosted, or to ask if you can host something that your sister has always hosted. If your young adult child has their own digs, it may even be time to let him or her start some of their own traditions.
9. Don’t compare your experience to others.
It’s not fair and not helpful. Yes, your neighbor’s 17 year-old daughter is a sweetie, and so nice how she still loves to bake cookies with her mom. Appreciate that, but try to do it without stewing in envy. You can even use the feelings of jealousy to get clarity about what you want for the holidays.
If baking means a lot to you, ask your neighbor if you can bake with them, invite someone else in your life to bake with you, put on some favorite music and bake solo, or ask your teen to give you a baking day as your holiday gift!
10. It’s not about the cookies: For everything there is a season.
If your teen is no longer at all interested in Christmas crafts, see if you can engage her in some other activity. Maybe even ask him to choose: “I get that you are really enjoying your friends and I love to see you have these good relationships in your life but I wonder if we could plan one holiday thing to do together this week. You choose.” None of this is easy. It’s new territory.
Head into it with love, gratitude, and flexibility, and it will be more enjoyable for everyone.