By: Sahel Gingerich, Empty Nest Intern
It's that time of year again when we pull out the storage boxes of lights and decorations to launch the holiday season in our homes. With these annual traditions, we also carry memories through the years of our children and extended families and the moments we've shared together. The most simple of ornaments can bring up complex emotions when they hold our children’s faces or their fingerpainted crafts.
The pressure to create a perfect holiday can shift our focus from what is important and heighten stress levels unnecessarily. Over time, our children grow and in many cases move further away. As seasons change within our family structure, flexibility becomes even more necessary to maintain joy and peace as a top priority and fully enjoy the spirit of the season. We're here to support you through those transitions and offer several ways to reduce and cope with holiday stress.
1. Change Is Inevitable:
One way to make holidays less stressful is to accept that change is normal. The sooner we embrace these changes as empty nesters, the easier it is to accept our new normal. We find ourselves modifying old traditions and creating new ones. As our own children’s lives change, we learn to adjust and adapt to a different way of parenting and celebrate this new season of life.
2. Time to Reconnect:
As children grow and leave home, it becomes harder to stay connected with their day-to-day activities, struggles, and celebrations. They get busier and busier as they become more independent and pursue their dreams. The holiday season is a great opportunity to reconnect in a new way. We encourage planning a walk together if they live closeby or a specific time for a FaceTime call if they're further away. Curious conversation can be initiated with phrases like “I wonder…” rather than asking more direct questions. This allows us to create a safe, nonjudgmental environment for our adult children to share their perspective.
3. It Is Not Too Late to Start Something New:
Becoming an empty nester doesn’t mean we are done trying new things. We can offer life advice from our own experiences as well as continue to learn from our kids as they step out and launch their own adult lives. We can start new traditions by participating in a charity event, visiting new places in town, or joining a movie theater membership. As we embrace these changes, we can prioritize filling our newfound free time with activities that rejuvenate and bring purpose.
4. Maintain Boundaries:
Prioritizing our own mental health will require communicating boundaries clearly to our loved ones. Adult children may come home with their own plans and expectations based on the new patterns and rhythms that they've set for themselves. This may mean sharing an honest "No" when we feel pressure to say "Yes". Be clear with family when you need to take time away from family gatherings to rest and recharge or choose to stay home and simplify plans as needed.
5. Community Involvement and Giving Back:
One of the ways we can plan well to handle holiday stress is to shift our energy towards acts of kindness and giving back to our communities. Our family members can also get involved. Serving the community together creates shared purpose and is fulfilling and unifying. These memories are lasting and establish new traditions for the years to come and set a tone that matches the holiday spirit.
6. Watch Your Budget:
Financial stress can put a lot of pressure on families, even moreso during the holiday season. As families grow and children marry and bring grandkids into the picture, we should keep in mind that showing our love does not require expensive gifts and elaborate decorations. Find ways to make ordinary moments memorable - such as baking with grandkids or meeting adult children out for lunch or for a drive to see Christmas lights.
7. Express Gratitude More Often:
During the holiday season, one way to care for our mental health and reduce stress is to pause and be thankful for the small things. This can be as simple as acknowledging what it means to us to have our children and grandchildren nearby. Cultivating thankfulness shifts our minds from what we're missing to what we have.
8. You Are Not Alone:
Although we can make our best effort to be mindful and respond well to the inevitable stress that the holidays bring, we must also acknowledge that there comes a point where it's perfectly acceptable to ask for help. A counselor can be a wonderful advocate and support to help you manage shifting emotions and to encourage you to slow down and process as you move through these life changes.
Coping with holiday stress as an empty nester requires flexibility, acceptance, and openness to new ways of thinking. Kindness towards ourselves and mindfulness of our priorities will allow us to start from a place of calm and cherish this time with our families. Open communication is key as we learn to reduce stress during this holiday season and focus on what is most important which is the connections that we share with our family and community.
If you find yourself in need of professional help, don't hesitate to reach out to us and schedule a session. Our dedicated team at Empty Nest Counseling is here to help you navigate life's challenges and transitions with care and compassion. Whether you're experiencing difficulties related to the milestones of becoming an Empty Nester or new grandparent or finding balance in how you relate to your adult children, our therapists are ready to support you. We offer both in-person and virtual therapy. Schedule a therapy session with us today and take the first step towards a healthier you. Remember, you don't have to face it alone – we're here for you.