This is an updated version of a blog published in December of 2019. Unless you have been in a coma this last year, you know that the holidays this year will be like none other. The messages of love, compassion, apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation are even more salient as we try to get together under the ominous cloud of COVID-19. For some of us, we will not have another holiday season with certain family members who have succumbed to the virus. Although we have a vaccine on the way, there is no guarantee that next holiday season someone else won’t be missing from the dining room table. How much more important it is for us to connect with our loved ones even if it is a ZOOM or phone call or an old fashioned letter.
Too often one or more members of an extended family are missing from holiday celebrations. Sometimes even when family members are close and want to get together plans can fall apart. With three married young adult children and eight ten grandchildren, we have struggled to try to get all three families together. Last year we were able to negotiate a time to have all of our kids and grandchildren come to our house two days before Christmas. Unfortunately, my youngest daughter’s kids came down with what she said was the “stomach flu,” and my older daughter bailed out so her kids would not catch it. Wouldn’t it be nice if the only flu we had to worry about in December of 2020 was the so-called stomach version?
Respecting the Young Adult Couple
Reasons such as illness, travel, work, financial limitations, and health concerns are understandable. There are also natural complications with in-laws. Parents of married or partnered young adults often find that they can no longer preserve a family tradition, such as we always spend Christmas eve together, because another family is vying for the same time.
My best advice, which I share in a practice book to be published in 2019 entitled Growing Apart, is that you need to respect the young adult couple and their desires and preferences. They deserve a chance to begin their own traditions while finding time on their calendars to connect with you. My children have decided that they wanted to start a Christmas tradition of being at home with just their children on Christmas morning. I blame Santa for our exclusion. For the first time in our married life, we are celebrating Christmas morning minus kids and grandkids. Unfortunately, not all of the challenges we face at the holidays are normal or understandable.
Fostering Reconciliation During the Holidays
Too many families gather during the holidays with one or more empty chairs because invitations were not made or accepted. Alienation-family members are not speaking or visiting each other- is most apparent at holiday times. For parents of the young adult or young adult couple who do not wish to attend holiday events because of unresolved offenses or on-going antagonisms, the absence can be heart-rending. I feel tremendous sadness for families whose members have discontinued contact. These members share the same DNA, common memories good and bad, and are hardwired from birth to care about each other. Although there are no easy answers, particularly with some of these situations that have gone on for years, here are some suggestions to foster reconciliation if you are facing an empty chair or empty ZOOM screen on this holiday season:
- Be the bigger person and reach out to your son or daughter. If you want to change the relationship, BEGIN THE CHANGE.
- If you are angry at them and have fostered this standoff, forgive them for their offense. It is the only ANTIDOTE TO RESENTMENT AND ALIENATION.
- APOLOGIZE for any part you may have had in the relationship. If you don’t know the basis of the cutoff, ask them why, what you have done to contribute to this, and what you could do to mend the relationship. Be sure to ask in the spirit of understanding and not to explain or defend your actions.
- Ask them to CONSIDER FORGIVING you now or at a later point.
- TELL YOUR YOUNG ADULT THAT YOU LOVE THEM and always will and that you want a relationship with them again.
In World War I, Christmas of 1914, French, British and German forces crossed trenches to exchange greetings, talk, share food and sing Christmas carols. This has become known as the Christmas truce. If bitter enemies with no familial ties can cross the divide of war to celebrate the Christmas Holiday, what excuse do we have for not doing the same with our family members? If the above guidance is too difficult, perhaps you can start the process with an invitation to exchange greetings, talk and eat dinner together. Christmas carols are optional.
Life is too short and family relationships matter too much. If not initiating change now, then when?