As a parent, you probably look forward to holidays with your adult kids. Especially if family members live far apart, holidays and family reunion times may be your only chances to see your kids together. To share traditions that bind you to each other.
But they’re also times when tensions can erupt and tempers give way. According to a 2015 Healthline survey, 62% of respondents describe their holidays as “somewhat stressful” or “very stressful.” Interestingly, responses are similar regardless of respondent age.
But some simple steps will reduce your stress and improve the odds that old and young will enjoy your next holiday gathering or family vacation. Here are the ABC’s of holidays with your adult kids.
“Of course I’m going to accept them – they’re my kids.” But that’s not what I’m talking about. You need to accept the people they are now, which can include new behaviors and friends.
Throughout college and young adulthood, your kids have been changing. They still have many traits they had as children. But they’ve also absorbed different ideas and interests from new friends and experiences they’ve had on their own.
Rather than judge your emerging adult’s choice of job or girlfriend/boyfriend, take a breath. Listen and observe. Your first impression may not be correct.
Even as you listen and learn, you might stay concerned about your son or daughter’s choices. But don’t voice those worries now.
Remember that 62% of people find holidays stressful. Knowing that this is an emotionally-charged time for everyone (even at an unconscious level), put off talking with your child until later.
For now, simply accept your children. And accept their friends.
For your own well-being and that of everyone around you, set your boundaries. For example, you may know your daughter sleeps with her boyfriend, but you aren’t comfortable with them sharing a room when they’re at your home. So tell her.
It’s your home. You’re allowed to have house rules.
Know, however, that the flip side of setting your own boundaries is respecting those of your adult child. In the example above, if you tell your daughter that she and her boyfriend need to sleep in separate rooms when they’re at your house, they may decide to go to a hotel.
This is fine – everyone gets to set their own boundaries. Of course, it’s not your job to pay for the hotel. Most of our choices have good and bad aspects. Your daughter will have to take the bad with the good.
Being clear about your own boundaries and respecting those of others isn’t always easy. But it can help you avoid becoming angry because your adult child won’t do what you want her to do.
For more information on boundaries, see this post with tips for when your adult child moves back home.
Before the visit
Before holidays with your adult kids, talk with them about timing and expectations. If they’re only available for 2 days, that’s ok. Plan around their visit.
You might ask them about their hopes for their time at home. For example, is there anyone, in particular, they want to see, or something they really want to do?
You should also clarify what you need from them. If you want assistance with cooking or keeping the house neat for a big family gathering, ask them for help.
To gift or not to gift?
You can reduce holiday stress by talking about gift-giving in advance. Your family may already be drawing names for gifts among cousins. Perhaps you want to extend the practice to immediate family members as well. Or not do gifts at all.
Last year our gift to our kids was a fabulous “bucket list” trip to Patagonia. In lieu of exchanging presents, we asked everyone to write notes to each other. To be honest, our request yielded mixed results. But it was still a good idea.
During the visit
Regarding communication with your kids when lots of people are round: mind your manners. Don’t bring up a private topic in a public forum. Refrain from commenting on sensitive subjects like weight, job choice or parenting style if they have children.
Go back to A: Acceptance. Your kids know you well enough to discern whether you “mean it” when you accept them and/or their friends. They’ll be more willing to listen to you later if they sense that you’re trying to see things from their point of view.
For more tips on communicating with your emerging adult, check out this post.
Holidays and family reunions always involve food. Sometimes they involve lots of food. Your emerging adult may enjoy coming home and indulging in comfort food he loved as a child.
He also may have changed his diet to one that’s now plant-based, or gluten-free. Similarly, his significant other may have dietary needs and preferences that differ from your own.
Ask about these issues beforehand. You don’t need to change your entire holiday meal to accommodate one person’s diet. But if your son’s girlfriend is vegan, you can make her feel welcome by preparing a couple of vegan dishes.
It’s fine to ask for help making meals that work for someone’s special diet. In the process, you might learn about a delicious new dish you haven’t tried before.
Even if they don’t have dietary restrictions, your kids and significant others may be trying to “eat healthy.” Yet lots of holiday favorites are loaded with carbs, fat and calories. Don’t pressure people to eat.
At the same time, it’s not your job to tailor your cooking to individual needs and preferences.
Refer back to B: set your Boundaries and respect theirs.
It’s not about the food, gifts, decorations or perfect holiday photos. It’s about enjoying your family, warts and all. All of us are messed up in one way or another. But our family loves us anyway.
Perfection vs. people
You can set an example for valuing people over perfection. Say you have to choose:
- Stay up until 2 am baking cookies or buy some at the bakery
- Iron the tablecloth for tomorrow or go out with your adult kids
- Wrap a few more presents or play a board game with the family
You push yourself to create the perfect holiday for your adult kids. But here’ a reality check. Wouldn’t the people in your life rather spend time with you? And you with them?
When your stress level rises, take a short time out. If possible, give yourself 15 minutes to go on a walk by yourself or sit in a quiet place. Meditate. Or power nap.
People, not perfection: a memory
As a child, I “went visiting” (a Southern expression) with my family on Thanksgiving afternoon, after my mother had served our holiday dinner. I recall a family we knew from church. All three generations got together in the small house of the people my parents’ age.
My mother used to remark on how they “weren’t much for cooking.” To her, that somehow made their holiday celebration inferior. They bought sides like macaroni salad and warmed up pies from Kroger’s freezer aisle. But in truth, the food didn’t matter to our friends: they seemed to be having a great time together.
Holidays are some of the rare times when you have multiple generations under the same roof. Facilitate interaction between young and old. Let your kids get to know their siblings’ significant others.
My son-in-law’s family has a fun tradition where different ages work together. They divide into teams of mixed ages. Each team gets a gingerbread house kit.
They compete against each other to build the best structure. No one builds a regular gingerbread house. Game rules dictate they have to use all the kit elements. But they’re also allowed to add items – as long as they don’t cost too much.
Some of the more memorable creations since my daughter joined the clan are a tricked-out dog house and a soccer stadium (in honor of the World Cup, of course).
The family invites neighbors over to judge the teams’ final products and select a winner. But the real winners are contestants who get to know their cousin, their aunt or their grandfather in a new way.
Bottom line: keep the main thing the main thing. Holidays with your adult kids are about enjoying each other.
Traditions old and new
Part of the fun of holidays with your adult kids is celebrating the traditions your family has observed over the years. Traditions you share with those you love. Sugar cookies and egg nog. Driving around to see holiday lights. Football in the backyard. Church on Christmas Eve.
Relish your family traditions. But don’t do something for the sake of tradition only.
In fact, stop doing things no one likes. Be open to creating new traditions — like a new food one of your kids’ spouses contributes, or something else he/she does to celebrate.
Let’s talk traditions
The subject of holiday traditions is a great conversation-starter at a table where people don’t know each other. It’s fun to go around and ask people to recall one or two traditions they observed growing up. Guests will feel welcome as everyone shares funny or touching memories.
Just as your family changes and blends in new people, your holiday traditions can evolve.
New ways to do old things
Another way to show respect for your adult kids during family get-togethers is to listen to their suggestions and ideas. It also might happen that you improve on “the old ways.”
For example, I was happy with my traditional technique of roasting the Thanksgiving turkey, but when my oldest son sent me this video, I watched it.
My son’s quite the home chef, as it turns out. And he combines his love of technical improvements with his love of food. Turns out, too, that he’s right about spatchcocking.
After watching the video, I tried the technique myself. Now I’ll never go back to my old way of roasting a turkey!
In the end, it all comes down to your attitude. You don’t need a fancy house or gourmet cooking skills to welcome people into your home. I bet you can recall feeling welcomed and included by someone with a small home and takeout food. I sure can.
Some people have a gift for hospitality. But anyone can cultivate a hospitable attitude. Especially when you’re spending holidays with your adult kids and their friends. Do your best to share your home and heart with them.
Don’t forget your humor
Poking fun at yourself, or absorbing others’ good-natured humor, creates memories that pull your group together. For example, our family likes to reminisce about the marshmallow incident that occurred years ago.
I usually struggle to make all the Thanksgiving dishes come out at the same time. One year I got so distracted that I let the marshmallow topping on the yams burn. Not once, not twice, but three times. And I don’t even like marshmallows – I only added them for the kids!
Now I assign a guest to watch the yams as their marshmallow topping browns. And everybody shares a laugh.
In review: ABC’s of holidays with your adult kids
One more time, here are key points to make your holidays with adult children more enjoyable for you and them:
- Enjoy (each other)
Best wishes for your next holiday gathering or family reunion. Let me know how it goes, and pass along your own tips for holidays with your adult kids!