Home for the Holidays? Not.

Someone needs to write some new Christmas songs that more realistically depict today’s family get-togethers. For those grandparents who won’t be able to be with grandchildren this holiday season, songs that croon about sledding over the fields to grandma’s house and promises that long-missing family members will be home for Christmas simply add to the loneliness and disappointment. The hype of comfort and joy surrounding this season is just that: hype.

With families scattered over the country, in fact in different parts of the globe, trekking to grandma’s house is a tradition belonging to the distant Dickensian past.  Depending on where our grown children live, travel at this time of year can be expensive. Not only that, if grown children are divorced, where the grandchildren spend the holiday may be a more complicated negotiation.

It’s even more complex when the grandparents are divorced. Selma of Kirkland Lake has two daughters, each with two children. “We might spend one Christmas every five or six years together,” Selma explains, because the parents of her sons-in-law are both divorced and remarried and Selma is divorced from her daughters’ father as well. “By the time my daughters make the rounds of all of those various configurations, my turn for Christmas comes about every six years,” she says. “But we keep in touch and share the day via Skype, so even when it’s not my turn, I still get to see my grandbabies on Christmas Day.”

We have to accept that when our child marries and has children, there will be extended family on the other side who expect to spend some time during the holidays with those precious grandchildren.

Not only is travel expensive, but for families with babies and toddlers, packing up all the equipment and hauling them in the back of the car, or worse through a packed airport can be a nightmare. And we haven’t even factored in the Santa gifts that need to be carried along as well.

Basically, we need to suck it up that we are no longer in charge of the holiday arrangements. Our children’s choices about how and where they spend Christmas will have their children, our grandkids, as the deciding priority.

All we have to do is remember how we felt when we had young children. We wanted to wake up in our own homes, make the holiday special for our children and establish our own traditions. Our children want to do the same.  We’ve all heard the horror stories of young families driving hundreds of kilometers over the Christmas season to spend time with each of the grandparents. In fact, many of us did the same thing when we were young parents. Why would we want to wish that frenetic routine on our grandchildren?

The best we can hope for is that our children will invite us to come to their house. Gerry and Diane of Regina found that solution worked well once their three children had families of their own. “We alternate each Christmas, spending it with our daughter and her family in Saskatoon one year, then we spend the next year with our son and his family in Winnipeg  and  for the third year, we fly to Vancouver and spend the holiday with our youngest daughter and her husband,” explains Diane. “Of course it would be nice to have our entire family together, but that’s unrealistic. Besides, we have the advantage of being able to travel light and really enjoy being guests in our kids’ homes.”

Others may be resigned to spending the occasional holiday without children or grandchildren. But that’s the time to volunteer at a shelter or invite neighbors and friends who are alone as well to share the day. Besides, spending a day with serene adults and a batch of martinis can be an interesting change from the usual family festivities.

– Bonnie Baker Cowan