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How to Enjoy the Holidays with Adult Children

The holidays are fast approaching! Typically I would have half my shopping done by now and already mapped out my Thanksgiving dinner. I haven’t done either this year. Who knows what the Holidays will look like in the midst of a pandemic? But there’s more than that. My family has changed in the past few years. Our daughter is grown, married, and has a baby of her own. They are establishing holiday traditions for their family. We need to reconsider our plans and learn how to enjoy the holidays with adult children.

Family Traditions

I am one of seven children. That means holidays are big, I mean huge! When our “immediate” family gets together with spouses and kids there are 27 people to feed. Our main winter holidays are Thanksgiving and Christmas. Everyone gets together, enjoys a meal, and celebrates! I love to cook for a holiday crowd, decorate my house, and put up a Christmas tree. Thanksgiving is at my sister’s house and Christmas Eve at my Dad’s house or mine. Everyone attends.

At least they used to.

The last two years our daughter didn’t attend Christmas Eve. There were no Kris Kringle gifts to exchange, no laughs over dinner. Gifts on Christmas morning didn’t include her. She wanted to spend Christmas at home with her husband and son, forming their own holiday traditions. Letting go of the ones we shared.

We needed to step back and reassess our holiday plans and traditions to find new ways to enjoy the holidays now that our daughter is an adult.

Travel on the Holidays

One of the biggest changes we see during the holidays as our kids grow is the re-location of festivities. Your son or daughter may want to celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas at their home – rather than yours. They may ask you to change your decades long tradition of hosting the family. To complicate it further, they could also host their in-laws and your extended family won’t be present.

There are further complications to the change of venue not the least of which is whether or not you’re invited. It’s possible your adult child wants to spend a holiday at home with their new family, alone.

What can you do?

Stomp your feet?

Refuse to go?

Or could you adapt?

picture of a Thanksgiving turkey with cherries on top and dressed with Rosemary. How to enjoy the holidays with adult children

7 Tips to Enjoy the Holidays with Adult Children

Here are some tips to make it work:

Focus on the positive, set aside the negative

Don’t get hung up on what you’re losing. Instead, focus on the new experiences you’re gaining. Your child has grown up into a wonderful person who cares enough about family and tradition to want to create their own memories. Kudos to you for raising such an amazing person!

If you’re going somewhere else for dinner, forget about the fact that you love to cook and feed your family. Enjoy sleeping in and not having to worry about the timeline for Thanksgiving dinner or finding serving dishes.

Let yourself off the hook and spend the day playing with your grandkids or children instead of cooking and cleaning.

Plan well in advance

Don’t leave holiday planning to chance or try to figure it out at the last minute. Talk to your kids well in advance about their plans for the upcoming season and how you fit in. Be prepared to be open minded about making it work for everyone.

Be brave enough to ask questions if you’re unclear. Let’s be honest, you’re still the parent. Your adult child is likely also uncomfortable about asking you to change your traditions. They will appreciate your openness to discussion. Try not to make it any more difficult for them.

Make a “holiweek” instead of a “holiday”

Is it really critical that you see everyone in your family on the exact day of the holiday? I’ll venture a guess – no, it isn’t. If your son or daughter wants to spend Christmas Day at home with their kids, then see them on the 26th or another day. What matters is that you get time together, not which day is showing on the calendar.

Spreading out the events can lead to a more relaxed and enjoyable visit. It removes the stress of rushing from one place to another and the potential feel of a command performance. It gives you the opportunity to enjoy the the holidays with your grown children and extends the holiday season.

Be respectful and accepting of their decisions

Your children want your approval, regardless of their age. If you’re lucky, that will never change. They will be anxious about whether or not you will accept their decisions about their holiday celebration. Hear them out and be willing to bend a bit.

People want to be heard and to have their ideas and opinions respected. Treating your adult child like an adult, worthy of their own plans and decisions, will go a long way towards finding common ground on these – and many other – issues.

Alternate locations or change times

If your children are willing, consider alternating locations annually. If there are multiple families involved, it could run over several years. My house this year, yours the next, the in-laws the following year.

When you’re hosting, extend an invitation to your child’s new extended family if you have the space.

Alternating locations may not be feasible but perhaps changing the time of gift opening, or dinner, may allow for more flexibility. For example, if your son or daughter wants to spend Christmas morning at home with their children, you could ask to visit for an afternoon dessert, or a glass of wine after dinner.

Keep your unsolicited advice to yourself

Parents who continue to treat their adult offspring like children are a source of constant stress. It’s time to let go. Your job is to raise your child and give her the skills she needs to survive in the world, then set her free. No one wants to hear your ongoing criticism of her choices or actions. Constant bitching is a sure fire way to make the holiday feel like a mandated appearance rather than a delightful get together.

Be supportive and complimentary. Try to look around and sincerely see what a wonderful life your child has created for themselves and be glad.

If you have something negative to say, keep it to yourself.


“We’re mammals. Even though we wear clothing and carry cell phones, like every other mammal parent we need to raise offspring who can fend for themselves out in the world without us. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that our job as parents is actually to put ourselves out of a job.”

Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshman at Stanford University

Don’t make your grown children chose

I’ve seen too many people put their foot down and insist that holiday traditions continue unchanged. And you know what, it never works! Don’t make your children chose whether to live their lives or to live yours. Doing so creates a no win situation.

Instead of fighting them about their decisions, join with them in their desire to create their own memories, be open to change and embrace new traditions. It’s the surest course to loving the holidays with your adult children.

Happy Holidays!

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