Raising Adult Children

Sharing Christmas

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When You Aren’t the Only One in Your Adult Child’s Life


The lights on the tree are twinkling, the smell of apple cider fills the air; Christmas is here at last. A time of love, compassion, carols, and goodwill to all. Until you realize you will be sharing Christmas.

My Family & Christmas

When I was a young bride, things were pretty straightforward. My family was used to celebrating Christmas on Christmas morning and my husband’s side celebrated Christmas eve. Simple and easy to make everyone happy. It was never really an issue for us. The years rolled by happily and I was feeling pretty smug.

Then my husband and I divorced. All of a sudden, it got a bit more complicated. Our kids still went to his parent’s place on Christmas eve (out to the “farm”), but where were the kids on Christmas morning? His house or mine? We tried alternating for one or two years, but it disrupted the routine my kids had grown up with and we soon changed. We decided that they would be with me on Christmas morning and their Dad’s on Christmas afternoon.

This arrangement worked pretty well; we each had to compromise. He missed out on Christmas morning with his kids, and I felt like my day was cut short because after brunch they would be getting ready and taking off for their Dads. But we made it work.

Complicated Family at Christmas

Then I re-married. To a man who had a child. And an ex-wife. And things began to get even more complicated. His son lived an hour and a half away from us and he was used to going to his grandparents on Christmas eve. With a lot of effort on my husband’s part – and a strong desire to make it work – he drove out to pick his son up after their Christmas eve celebrations. It meant he was often driving home on winter roads at ten or eleven in the evening. But all of us were together on Christmas morning.

The latest wrinkle is a teenager who has decided he doesn’t want to stay over at his Dad’s house on Christmas eve. He would rather stay home and play with the latest game he received as a gift. And I have a newly married son, and he married a woman who also has a family! I know, crazy.

Common Struggle

The challenges we face are not new and many people deal with it every year. Juggling parents, step-parents, and their families, grandparents, step-grandparents, and sometimes even nieces, nephews, and uncles, and aunts.

As the parent of an adult child, there’s no doubt that Christmas can add tension and anxiety to an otherwise joyous occasion. Some people breeze through it with simple arrangements, easy drives, and willing sacrifice. For some parents, it is a source of pain and heartbreak. They feel ousted and pushed to the side, only getting the scraps of their child’s time and attention.

Christmas Planning

What do you do when Christmas brings with it tension and aggravation over schedules? The best thing to do is tackle it head-on and plan enough in advance. Don’t leave it to the last minute to find out you won’t be seeing your children when you expected.

Sit down with your adult children and ask them how they want to handle Christmas this year. Then listen. Don’t jump in and start adding your two cents or questioning what they are saying. This is not a time for demanding or pouting. The objective is to have a calm conversation where both sides lay out their thoughts and what they would ideally like to see happen.

Once both of you are clear on what each other wants, you can easily see where the pain points are and where they don’t align. Or they do align and congratulations!

Christmas Game Plan

There are a few ways you can deal with the situation of two parties wanting the same part of Christmas. These suggestions require all parties involved to be willing to be flexible and compromise.

  1. Break what you consider to be the holiday up into units. For example, maybe for your family Christmas eve day is important so that would be one unit, Christmas eve is another unit, Christmas morning, Christmas afternoon, and so on.

    Once you have them broken into units, find out which unit each family would like. Maybe one wants Christmas eve and the other wants Christmas Day. If two parties want the same day, you may want to consider idea number two.
  2. Alternate the days that are important to all families. Maybe one year the family spends time with her parents on Christmas day and the next year it is his. It’s all about compromise.
  3. Pick another day. Some families may not be attached to one particular day on the calendar. If you are happy to celebrate Christmas on Boxing Day for instance, then why not?
  4. Get together. Is it possible that the solution is as simple as coming together to celebrate all together? Of course, this depends on the space available (and if we are in the midst of a global pandemic). By making it one big celebration, it takes the pressure from your offspring to spend the holidays running around to different homes.

Whatever you end up doing, make sure you don’t overstep your child’s boundaries. They are trying to make their own family and their traditions. Juggling all the parties involved isn’t easy and remember, Christmas should be a time for love and peace, not guilt and anger.

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