As adult children establish their own traditions or holiday rhythms, it can create opportunities for complicated feelings. It’s not uncommon for family members to want explanations or express their frustration.
What do we do?
As much as possible and where it’s wise, adult children can honor their parents by communicating early and clearly as the holidays approach. While new traditions can feel exciting, they may prompt sadness for aging parents who still want to feel connected. Caring communication can be a means of affirming your love even amidst the changing relationship.
When adult children encounter the disapproval or disappointment of their parents, “tradition” might bring with it the pressure to keep the holiday season conflict-free, even if that means minimizing or ignoring hurt. Conversely, they may feel anxious at the prospect of walking back into an environment characterized by tension and anger that spills out onto everyone.
How do we face such challenges honestly, yet with humility?
- Don’t overlook the basics. Adequate sleep, healthy foods, movement, and fresh air provide needed support when we face schedule shifts and challenging relational interactions. When we are anticipating the pressures of family dynamics during the holidays, these simple ways of tending can give us greater capacity to think clearly and remain calm.
- Remember that the person you are experiencing conflict with needs the grace and love of Jesus as much as you do. Moving toward someone, even when it requires a difficult conversation, is less about conflict resolution skills and more about being committed to seeing the fellow image bearer in front of you.
Every married adult child typically has two sets of parents (as well as siblings and extended family members) with their own unique sets of expectations. Oftentimes at the holidays, in trying to please one set of parents, you unintentionally offend the other.
- It’s not uncommon for adult children to live hundreds of miles apart from their parents, as well as their spouses’ parents. Both sets of parents are likely unaware of the daily routines and responsibilities their children now face.
- Parents of adult children may be increasingly less familiar with the level of energy required for young spouses and parents in caring for their new families.
- Parents and their adult children may have different opinions and convictions about all kinds of matters, from parenting to politics to theology. This can spark further division when trying to figure out what to talk about and how expectations can vary drastically from one set of parents to the other.
If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves arriving at family holiday gatherings with a fatalistic perspective. Consider: What might it look like to arrive with open hands, humbly willing to navigate the hard while remaining hopeful? We will never be able to “manage” the expectations of others, but we can engage with them reasonably (with grace — see James 3) and compassionately, depending on the Lord for the strength to do so.
If the dynamics of family holiday gatherings bring dread, look for opportunities to create new experiences of fun or sensory-stimulating outings. Be intentional to set times for gathering with those who offer comfort and laughter so that the holiday season isn’t marked by only the heavier obligations. This is where church small groups, neighborhood friends, or hobby partners might provide a helpful outlet for community and creativity.
- Share in a neighborhood potluck meal or dessert hop from house to house.
- Take your kids and a few of their friends on a Christmas lights tour.
- Sign up for a holiday craft-making class with someone you’ve been wanting to get to know better.
- Ask a couple of your trusted friends to grab coffee and pray together for each other’s holiday plans, encouraging one another in the aspects that feel daunting or frustrating.
Remember, our God offers us joy and delight even when other complicated feelings may remain (Psalm 16:11).
[These thoughts were compiled by one of our supervision groups (Ben Baker, Brenda Harstine, Ian Tully, Karen Brooks, Laura Hudson, and Melissa Affolter).]
Ben has been a part of Fieldstone since its beginning and has had the privilege of serving in several different capacities both in counseling and as part of operations.
Brenda has been married to David for 34 years. Together they have twin adult sons who, through marriage, have added two wonderful daughters to their family.
Ian joined the Fieldstone Counseling team after completing his Master's Practicum and Residency with the Boston Center for Biblical Counseling (BCBC).
Karen is a Cleveland native and lifelong resident. She is a biblical counselor apprentice at Fieldstone Counseling in Lakewood.
The Lord has brought and continues to bring Laura through deep waters (Isaiah 43:1-2) while living life in this broken world so she considers it a privilege to come alongside others in their difficulties.
Melissa has served in counseling and women's discipleship for over twenty years, in local church settings and non-profit organizations.