How To Share Holidays With Adult Married Kids: Empty Nest Edition

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Remember when we used to dream about having the house to ourselves? Those crazy detailed fantasies of a clean and quiet home were so tempting! I used to dream about the days when I wouldn’t be tripping over my son’s big, smelly shoes that had been dumped in the doorway.

Or the nightly ritual of listening for the car returning home to our driveway and the tell tale door slam of my daughters’ return from waitressing work. It was only when I knew she was home safe that I could finally relax enough to fall asleep.

Empty Nester Loneliness Is Difficult During The Holidays

Trust me, when I finally slept through the night and no longer woke up to an obstacle course of size 14 shoes, life felt pretty damn good. “Empty nest blessed “was my motto!

Then, both my kids got married. To really great people. And frankly, I struggled with navigating holidays with my kids and their new extended families. It was harder than I anticipated, and I had to let go of my long-held expectations of family holidays.

Empty Nest Syndrome Is Real

Celebrating the holidays with adult married kids can be difficult. It’s a mixed bag of new independence and old traditions, with a side dish of sentimentality!

New relationships and old allegiances can be a challenging mix. Too often, the result is an emotional bang followed by a cloud of angry smoke! One serious family fight can cause the family to experience a holiday fracture that will be felt for decades.

All Moms Have The Same Fantasy

Let’s get real: having children is difficult. Parents of little children imagine the days when the house is clean, and the laundry bulldozer has stopped dumping loads of clothes! We fantasize about those future days, and frankly, we make ourselves the star of the perfect holiday story.

Empty Nest Holidays Tend To Have The Same Script

We imagine a clean house filled with amazing adult married kids. Lots of family arriving to celebrate at our home, enjoying our traditions and displaying perfect behavior. Am I reading your mind?

Now, take a closer look at the main storyline:

  • You are the center of the story.
  • Your family is all there in delightful Christmas sweaters.
  • Your home is decorated with holiday colors, classic red/green, of course!
  • Your traditions are center stage; everyone plays the Pink Elephant gift game happily.
  • Your idealized family behavior, no bickering, no cursing, purely pleasant.

Empty Nest Loneliness Can Be Fueled By Memories

An Empty Nest Can Feel Extra Lonely At Holidays

Spoiler alert: Adult married children have the right to choose their holiday traditions.

Okay, take a deep breath- count to three slowly…1…2…3- feel better? Listen, Mama, the days of controlling children with your expectations are over. That ended about the same time your kid left for college. Remember that old saying – if you love something, set it free? Yea, its time to set your adult children free from your expectations.

Sharing Holidays Can Increase Empty Nest Loneliness

All parents struggle with the transition from adolescent to young adult. The time flies by, and as your children become adults, it can trigger feelings of your mortality. You get caught up in emotional melancholy, longing for the days when they were little, romancing the past to escape the reminders of passing time.

When we get focused on what used to be, we fail to allow room for what is. Getting stuck in “Mama Memories” is dangerous, it does not allow our adult children to grow and develop their unique perspective. As their lives evolve, our respect for their adult space needs to grow as well.

Married Adult Kids Have Different Rules

Obviously, I am talking about financially independent, capable adult children. Young adult children who are still financially tied to the family funds are at a different stage. They do not get to make all their own decisions yet.

If one thing is true in life, money equals freedom! Obviously, when a child has enough money to fund their own life, they are an independent adult.

Try These Helpful and Humorous Ideas To Enjoy Holidays With Married Kids

Okay, let’s go back to the holidays, shall we? Here’s the thing: the more pressure you put on someone to meet your expectations, the bigger the wedge of resentment you drive into the relationship. It is in your best interest to relax expectations and find ways to flex into the holidays.

Ninja Nana Move

This first one is a game changer: Move your family’s celebration to the Sunday before the holiday. Yup, this is the ultimate flex move, the twisted pretzel pose of all time: Move Your Holiday Celebration!

As adult kids marry and create families, the holidays become a fierce game of emotional Twister. Intense pressure from all sides can force them to choose holiday sides, and frankly, sweetie, they might not choose you.

Flexibility Is Key When Creating Enjoyable Holidays With Married Kids

Moving the holiday one week before is brilliant. You get the first expression of excitement. Your Thanksgiving dinner is the first one, your gift opening is the first one… You are in first place!

By being flexible, you have freed up your adult married kids to genuinely enjoy your celebrations. Additionally, you have encouraged them to attend holiday events with other family. That is some high-level Ninja Nana moves!

Hospitality Superhero

Take off your apron and try this Superhero cape on instead. Invite EVERYONE to your house on the actual holiday! This move is guaranteed to stun your opponents and cause some minor confusion. A Matriarch who extends her home to the in-laws? Damn girl, you are one fierce Mother!

Take the first step by inviting all the important people to your home and be genuine. You might be surprised how much fun those other people can be!

And bonus round! Your adult kids do not feel torn between commitments. If there are grandchildren, they will love the idea that both Grandmas are feeding them holiday treats.

Be Prepared to Accept The Boundaries Your Children Create

Lastly, this one could hurt a bit but be prepared for your children to set boundaries that work for them. It is a beautiful thing, with your support when your child chooses to create healthy boundaries for their family. When my daughter got married, I encouraged her to create new traditions with her husband.

As a result, they have created a holiday schedule that works for them and their young family. I am so proud that they have put their family first.

Empty Nester Loneliness Can Cause Resentment In Families

When I had a mother-in-law in my life, I felt overlooked and struggled with resentment. In my former marriage, I felt angry that there was no holiday flexibility. Holiday expectations were to be met without question; there was no room for other ideas or plans.

There was no space to create boundaries for my new family, and for decades, we did the same rote routine of holiday expectations.

For my adult children, even if it pained me, I was committed to giving them the emotional freedom they needed to create their best holiday schedule.

Sometimes Clear Boundaries Can Feel Hurtful

Trust me, the first time my adult children made their holiday decisions clear, it stung a bit! I had to take a mental step back and remember to practice gratitude that they felt free to create boundaries for their lives. After I spent some time reflecting on their wishes, I was able to see the healthy dynamic that we had created as respectful adults.


Honor The Boundaries Created By Your Adult Married Kids

As a rule, most families struggle with some aspect of releasing adult children from the nest. We are happy they have moved into their own place, but we can fall into the trap of placing childish expectations on our adult kids.

If you find yourself struggling with empty nester loneliness, take some time to identify what seems to be missing. Keep an open mind about new ways to connect with your adult kids outside of the emotionally charged holidays.

Use The Empty Nest Flexibility To Make Holidays Easier For Your Kids

Don’t forget that it is generally easier for your to travel to their home to celebrate the holidays. Most likely you have more financial wiggle room and are not navigating airports with wiggling, weeping children in strollers.

Let’s be mindful of the power we hold as mothers and grandmothers. Holiday gatherings are important, but we must allow flexibility for our adult children to create their schedules.

Choose to be Wonder Woman, and let healthy family boundaries be your superpower!

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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