Dear Ann Cannon • The holiday season is over and I’m realizing I’m the old grandma now. But when I get invited to my daughter’s or granddaughter’s homes for a celebration and/or meal, it’s hard to sit still and watch all our old traditions and recipes change. How do I keep from getting my feelings hurt? I understand that young people like to embrace new things, but our family traditions are just fine — and have been fine for 25 years.
— The Old Grandma Now
Dear Grandma • Not that this is about me … but fine. I’m going to make it about me for a minute.
I’ll confess. This past December was H.A.R.D. Everything made me cry. Songs on the radio. The ornaments on my tree. Holiday movies I’ve watched (and enjoyed!) in the past. Cry. Cry. Cry. That’s all I did. Besides eat. Oh, yes. I did eat. And eat and eat and eat. (M-m-m-m-m-m. Can you say “Garden Gate toffee?”)
I hated feeling this way because typically I love Christmas. Dude. Just drop a tiara on my head and call me the Christmas Queen already, which is why I doubled down and tried to make some personal Christmas magic happen. You know. Like a character in a Hallmark movie who doesn’t have the Christmas spirit until she gets accidentally snowed in somewhere and ends up baking cookies with the townspeople, which has the effect of making her love the holidays all over again — just like she did when she was a little girl.
Anyway. Doubling down didn’t work, possibly because I didn’t get snowed in or bake cookies with strangers, so I finally had a sit-down talk with myself and asked, WHAT’S WITH YOU AND ALL THE CRYING? In public places even, like that restaurant in Park City where you met a girlfriend for breakfast who asked how you were doing, which caused you to immediately burst into tears?
And somewhere deep inside of me the answer bubbled to the surface. For some reason this past holiday season I was acutely aware of loss — the loss of the way Christmases used to be, the loss of the way we — my family, me — used to be. And it sounds from your letter that you experienced a version of the same thing, too. Am I right?
So. How do you stop from getting your feelings hurt when your adult children switch up cherished traditions on you and move forward with traditions of their own?
Here’s what I’ve decided. It’s OK to acknowledge to yourself that change is hard and that your feelings have been hurt. Sometimes denying feelings only makes them dig their heels in that much harder. It’s OK to be sad about the things we’ve lost — even when our environment demands that we be happy. When I think of my people who’ve left this life — friends, my grandparents, my father — the sadness I feel reminds me of how lucky I was to love them all in the first place.
Acknowledging your feelings, however, doesn’t mean you have to force everyone around you to acknowledge them, too. It’s possible, I think, to hold a space for your sadness while being graciously present with your loved ones now. Does that make sense? In other words, don’t complain or criticize the way they’re doing things. Instead, thank your adult children for including you and offer to help where possible.
Finally, it’s important to note you probably won’t always feel the way you do right now. A new normal will take the place of the previous normal, bringing with it tender experiences and fresh cause to celebrate.
And life goes on.
Best wishes to you.