The holiday season is coming up and while I already have my Christmas shopping underway, we are still just getting ready for the next few months. Being far from home makes the holiday season bittersweet for me. I grew up in a small nuclear family but with a large extended family, and we gathered regularly for holidays, birthdays and other special events. Even as a child playing sports I remember that most of my family was at every game. And I wasn’t even that good.
In the past my mother has taken the long 30 hour journey for a few Christmases, but this year we will officially be on our own, without extended family. I’m sure some of you are thinking you’d like that scenario, but I assure you it makes the dynamics of the holidays so different. Instead of gathering on Christmas day with 15 people eating all day and opening presents, it’ll be just us. Just like it is everyday. But you know what? Just like I wrote here, parenting away from your family actually gives you steel. If you too will be away from family, whether because of a job, mission or simply by choice, here are some tips to navigate the season without feeling too sad to be away from those that you love.
Start personal family traditions.
Last year I decided that if I wanted things to be special then, dadgummit, I had to make them special. Sprinkle pancakes for birthdays. Pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Listen, they don’t even have pumpkin in a can where I live. This is serious.
We cooked up an advent calendar with fun things to do, and decorated the house and the tree. One way to be sure you aren’t thinking about what you’re missing is to put your energy into creating new traditions for your own family. Many of our traditions have been above our children’s ability to appreciate since they’re so young, but we still do it. We do it because if we don’t act like something is special, then something isn’t special.
Stop comparing your now to your then.
There will be more gifts if 20 people are giving you gifts than if 2 people are. Christmas isn’t about gifts, but this is just an example of the reality. More food will be on the counter when 7 people cooked rather than just you, even if you slaved away in the kitchen. At some point you have to say, enough is enough, and draw a line in the sand.
Past holiday memories were amazing and you have flickering Christmas tree light memories about them all. But now, I have the privileged position to be a mother to three bright sparks and I am going to embrace my season. Soon they will grow up and move out and I want them to have amazing holiday memories in our home.
Focus on your children.
The holiday season is an amazing time of year. There are parties, special movies, and real live trees growing in the house. We decided this year we’d get the kids one good and substantial present, and we decided it would be something that would bring us all joy throughout the year. We are opting for balance bikes – since the kids are so young – so we can go to lots of places around our area to explore. Instead of feeling sad that my children won’t have the joy of lots of other people around doting on them, I will dote on them and spend quality time with them.
Focus on others.
Our church focuses heavily on outreach during the Christmas season. We organize events and drives for certain areas in our community, and the pastor is always asking for new and creative ways we can show others the true meaning of the season. One way to stop feeling sorry for yourself – generally speaking – is to stop worrying about yourself. I hope this year the kids and I will be able to do our own part in giving and serving others. Even if it’s just buying some gifts or nonperishables to give away. Children are never too young to realize the value of loving others.
Take a longer view.
I will admit I’ve been found sobbing on my children’s birthdays. Not because they are getting older – although that makes me snot cry as well – but because there was not 12 aunts uncles and cousins telling them how wonderful they are and how happy they are that my babies were born.
I feel so sorry for my children that I cry. While it’s happening I feel ridiculous because I know my kids don’t know any different and they love my husband and I and think that a few balloons and singing is great. This holiday season I want to take the longer view.
We won’t always live far from family. I won’t always have my babies to myself. Soon they’ll want to dip out during the holidays left and right to have fun with their friends. Life is not about this one moment, life is about many series of moments strung together.
Even after leaving and cleaving, living 5 hours away by plane from the in-laws and 30 hours away by plane from my family is trying. Not just because we have no free babysitters or built-in adults who love our kids, but because Thanksgiving and Christmas just feel like times where we should be surrounded by family. I’ve just realized a hard reality lately, though. I am the adult now. I will surround my own children with love and affection and, while that’s not the same as a myriad of other adults around, I think it’ll be just fine for my babies.