By Elaine K. Williams
The holidays can be a difficult time for grandfamilies. Your grandchildren may feel especially sad, wishing their parents were with them for the holidays. The absence of the biological parent(s) can trigger feelings of rejection and/or abandonment as well.
Broken promises can be even harder on kids. One or both parents may promise to visit the child over the holidays or ask what the child wants for Christmas. If they and/or the gift are no-shows, your grandchildren — and perhaps you — will feel anger, disappointment, and frustration.
The child may also expect you to make good on the parent’s broken promise. For example, one teen asked for a smartphone, and when the parent did not buy it for her, she wanted Grandma to provide it. This kind of “push and pull” interaction can make celebrating the holidays challenging for both grandparents and grandchildren.
The pressures and stressors of the holidays as well as the loneliness of missing the biological parent and your adult child can be too much. Here are some tips to keep joy in your home during the holidays:
1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has died recently or can’t be with you at this special time, realize it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s okay for you and your grandchildren to take time to cry and express your feelings.
2. Reach out. Seek social activities with your friends and community or church events you can attend together with your grandchildren. Perhaps you and your grandchildren can volunteer together and experience the gift of giving.
3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect, so don’t even set that expectation! However, following some old traditions or creating some new ones can make celebrating together fun. Even if the budget is tight, baking cookies, decorating the house, looking through family photo albums, and stringing popcorn are some of the simple and inexpensive ways to share the joy of giving and the comfort of family.
4. Learn to say no. If a visit from a relative is not in your or your grandchildren’s best interests, then don’t allow it. Protect the safety and security you have created for your grandchildren, and don’t let guilt cloud your decision.
5. Share stories. Children, even teens, love to hear stories about themselves. They also love to hear your stories about when you were young. They cherish revisiting “silly” moments from the past. If your grandchildren don’t have a lot of good memories, then let them know this holiday season you are going to create some wonderful memories together.
Elaine K. Williams, MSW, a consultant, counselor, and educator focusing on kinship caregiving, is the author of Sacred Work: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. She has five grandchildren being well raised by their parents.