Joy. The holidays. An empty nest. It doesn’t seem like those concepts go together at this stage in our lives does it? If you’ve ever seen the movie Christmas with the Kranks, then you have some idea of what new empty nesters are capable of doing at the holidays.
For some of us, this festive season, this beautiful light filled time of year isn’t so bright and merry anymore. This time of year that used to bring us so much joy feels empty and dark, both figuratively and literally.
Our joy in the holidays has walked out the door; our children have left home to be on their own. Now, what do we do?
A Little Holiday Magic
I never really loved the holidays that much until we had kids, and even then the only enjoyment I took from the Christmas season was seeing our children happy.
As a teenager, I would slip away from my family and go wander the streets at night, “talking” too long dead relatives I never knew. ( I know, very nineties teenage angst of me.)
Now add to that I work a retail job at one of the busiest stores in Arizona, well the holidays never seemed so very merry to me.
But having kids changes you and your attitudes. We find ourselves playing dress up and having tea parties with pretend tea. I miss those parties; they were some of the best parties of my life.
This year for us is the first year our little family wasn’t all together for Thanksgiving.
Our daughter is serving in the military and is currently deployed overseas. Our son moved out a year ago, and although he came home for the Thanksgiving holiday, he has his girlfriend’s family to also spend time with.
Most of the time it was just Heather and me waiting for them to come home. We celebrated Thanksgiving on Friday instead of Thursday because it was just Heather and I on Thursday and our son was celebrating with his girlfriends family.
It sounds like a super fun and festive way to spend the holiday doesn’t it?
Heather and I joke about ending up having Thanksgiving dinner at the casino near where we live. That is what all the “old” people always do; the funny part is now that our kids have moved out we are on our way to that designation. Old and alone.
We Are Not Old
We are not old, we only feel old temporarily without our children, and some of these feelings will probably never go away completely.
I remember my mother working so hard to get all her kids to commit to either coming on Thanksgiving or Christmas each year. I never understood why this was so important to her.
It wasn’t like each holiday was going to be super spectacular, was it?
And the answer to that question is always yes. Every holiday was special, though I didn’t know that at the time.
Each Holiday is a Mixture of All the Ones Before
Each holiday was and is spectacular because it isn’t just that day you are celebrating as a parent. You are celebrating every Christmas and Thanksgiving you’ve had with your children.
You remember your child’s first Christmas, buying them presents they couldn’t understand, let alone appreciate.
Those first few years with our daughter, we really couldn’t afford to buy her things, so we waited until after Christmas when they had the clearance sales. She didn’t know she was opening her gifts on the 28th of December instead of the 25th.
You remember your son’s first Christmas when your first child didn’t like to share this wonderful holiday where they got lots of attention and gifts, with another little human.
And how now, 19 years later they haven’t spent a Christmas apart from each other. How every Christmas eve they put on the pajamas you buy for them and run off to hide in a room and talk about their lives to each other.
They do this even at 25 and 19 years old. It is their tradition, their way of creating memories and honoring this time together.
The Family of the Future
The holidays are not and never will be just about that single day, it is about all the days before that and all the days that lead into the future.
For me, it is a time to look at my family and not only see them as they are now but see them as they have been and for the potential future that they make possible.
They are our legacy, and the things that we were taught as traditions growing up are passed on to them and potentially onto their children. It is probably the closest we will come to touching the future that we will ever get.
The holidays are about forging connections and making memories so that we always have those times inside of us.
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These first few years as empty nesters are going to be hard. That isn’t to say we won’t spend time with our kids during the holidays; it is the build-up to the holiday we miss the most.
Decorating a tree, putting up lights, baking cookies, and pies before the holiday. Or whatever you do as a family to prepare for your holiday.
We miss those times; we crave the opportunity to create more of those memories for ourselves.
For us, this is the hardest part of being empty nesters, the lack of opportunity to create new memories.
So it is now the first of December, Thanksgiving has come and gone and we now only face Christmas without our family together. Only, such a small word with a ton of meeting.
We hope to keep our sanity and not turn out like Luther, in the movie Christmas with the Kranks.
We can get a little crazy and emotional when faced without kids for the holidays. Watching the adventures of Nora and Luther, in Christmas with the Kranks and how they try to run from these feelings, both make us laugh and cringe at some of their tactics.
Only to have them figure out towards the end of the movie that they can’t hide from the holidays.
We can’t run, hide or escape these feelings during the holidays, but like everything else about being empty nesters we can plan and prepare ourselves for these certain feelings.
More about empty nests: The Best Empty Nest Advice That Will Make You Feel Like Normal
Don’t Hide Your Feelings
Admitting to ourselves and to those close to us our feelings can go a long way to easing our sense of loss and loneliness. Pretending or telling everyone you are okay isn’t going to help you.
Tell your wife or your husband about these feelings, trying to hide them from each other will just create more pain for all of you.
Your kids and spouse are probably having these same feelings, sharing your feelings can help ease some of the loneliness of the holidays.
Don’t Be a Grinch
One of the worse things you can do for yourself is hide away. If you’ve ever seen the movie Christmas with the Kranks, then you have some idea of what new empty nesters are capable of doing at the holidays hide away from it all.
Don’t be like the Grinch and hide out on your mountaintop looking down on everyone else’s happiness. Get out and get involved with your community or friends. Volunteer, helping others out can lift our spirits as well as the spirits of others.
Monitor Your Expectations
The holidays are going to be different. Comparing this year’s Christmas to all the others that have come before it is going to lead to disappointment and unhappiness on your part. Be realistic and plan for those changes. Different doesn’t mean bad.
Try creating new holiday traditions if you can’t be physically together. Video call apps such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, or Facetime can allow you to see and visit with your children.
Accept the Changes
If your children have significant others in their lives, they are more than likely going to be spending time with this other family as well. Don’t make this time harder on yourself and your children by holding this against them.
Making comments about your child’s partners parents and family isn’t going to make them want to spend more time with you, quite the opposite in fact. Admit your feelings to your child, but don’t try and make them feel guilty or put down for doing this.
They might be feeling guilty for this as well, and this will add to making their holiday stress and depression terrible as well.
If you know your children are not going to be able to make it home for the holidays, plan for this.
Can you set aside a weekend before or after the holiday to spend time together and exchange gifts, have dinner and be a family? Of course, you can!
When she was a toddler, our daughter did not know she was opening presents on the 28th instead of the 25th; she just knew she was having a good time. It isn’t about what day of the week it is, but the time you all spend together. Doing this can ease your stress and give you something to look forward too.
Give Yourself Some Breathing Room
We all have these feelings of loss, and emptiness at having our children away from us at the holidays. When you start to feel overwhelmed take a few minutes for yourself to pull it together. Sometimes all we need is 15 minutes to ourselves to gather our thoughts and feelings together.
Activities such as:
- Take a walk
- Read a book
- Listen to music
- Talk to a trusted friend.
- Taking a few minutes for ourselves can avoid hurt feelings and fights.
Seek Professional Help
As always, you are the best judge of your emotional state. If you feel overwhelmed or depressed and no longer think you can handle it, seek professional help.
Being an empty nester is hard, the holidays can be harder, seek help if it is necessary. You are not going to be a help to your children or yourself by suffering.
For more tips like this visit the Mayo Clinic.
Preparing yourself for the holidays without your children can mitigate your feelings of emptiness and loss. Embrace all the good things in life that you have. And be grateful you did such an excellent job of raising your children.
You never know, you might end up with a surprise like in Christmas with the Kranks, and your kids show up for the holiday!
Raising kids has always been about unexpected events, why should that change just because they moved out?
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Feliz Navidad, Yule, Kwanzaa, or whatever you prefer to call this December season. Do you find it odd that no matter how many cultures there are, almost all of them find a reason to celebrate in December? I believe it is human nature to look for some light and meaning in the darkest time of the year. Whatever way you choose to celebrate this winter season, or if you decide not to celebrate at all; may whatever you believe in bring you joy.
Please let us know of some of your holiday’s traditions or some of the silly things you did when your kids moved out. Email us or leave in the comments below.