My three siblings and I are baby boomers with kids are in their 30s. In the past two years, our beloved parents have both passed away. Losing our two strongest personalities has definitely dimmed our once-tight extended family unit. We keep getting together for birthdays and holidays, but it seems forced. Also, the members of the younger generation are quite secretive about their personal lives, so it all feels like we’re drifting apart. Any suggestions on how to recapture our family spirit?
J.V. / Gloucester
You need to make a leap of faith.
Because you can’t recapture the family spirit. That configuration of the family — the one with the pater- and materfamilias at the head and center — doesn’t exist anymore. If family celebrations feel forced, it’s because the traditions and relationships aren’t evolving along with the family itself.
Instead of trying to bring back the past, look to the future. Just to get your imagination limber, list five things you personally could do on the next holiday other than what you have done in the past. And then start some conversations about what family traditions are working and which ones are not. (Maybe have everyone else do the brainstorming exercise first, as well.) What are the best ways for everyone to keep in touch and enjoy regular gatherings? Imagine you all woke up tomorrow with Festive Amnesia and had no recollection of any past family celebrations or rituals. What would you invent?
And to briefly address that “secretive” thing — don’t judge what information your younger relatives decide to keep private. They have their reasons, and they have plenty of other things to talk about, I’m sure.
Maybe I’ve simply used a lot of words to say, “If you love something, let it go.” I do know how hard that advice is to follow. But I believe that there are new celebrations and new conversations waiting for your family on the other side of this. Take a deep breath — and take the leap.
My sister is hosting Christmas dinner. She hosted last year as well, and she and her adult children, as well as my brother and his adult children, broke off from our group to exchange their gifts to one another. My husband and our adult children and I waited over half an hour for them to finish. It seemed rude but she said they hadn’t had time to exchange gifts earlier (same for brother and family) as my family had. What are your thoughts?
Anonymous / Boston
Check in with your sister to see if that’s how they plan to do it again. If so, bring your own family’s gifts — or if it’s important to you to open your family gifts privately, bring some other form of entertainment. Maybe put some board games on the wish list this year? Or a portable karaoke machine. I bet a few choruses of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” would speed up their unwrapping.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.