Whether your children are away at university, adventuring overseas or spending the holiday with their new in-laws, navigating the Christmas season with an empty nest can be difficult.
Mother-of-two Susan Gross has been there and co-wrote The Empty Nest Companion: A Little Book of Love and Encouragement for when your Child leaves The Nest to help empty nesters with the transition.
With social media, Gross says it’s easy for parents to be triggered into comparing their Christmas with Christmases past or sizing up their plans against friends who are co-ordinating big family reunions.
“Life is now different and life is going to continue to change as your children’s lives evolve,” Gross said. “Don’t keep comparing what used to be with what is now.
“I think that’s what gets us all hung up and causes the sadness or the depression around the holidays because, ‘Oh my gosh when the kids were little it was so beautiful. They would run down the stairs on Christmas morning and there’s all the gifts and you have the big family celebration.’ And it’s not that anymore.”
Create new traditions
In order to move beyond the comparisons, Gross recommends starting new traditions. That could be planning a holiday vacation somewhere new or scheduling a family Facetime call.
“I hear of people that — because their kids can’t be with them for the holidays — they, and maybe a spouse or significant other, chose to say, ‘We are going to do a fun family vacation — just the two of us — and we’ll find another time to celebrate with the kids when we can all be together,” Gross said.
“It’s really a matter of what works best for the family, and stop beating yourself up that it has to be that perfect family thing that used to be 10 years ago or 20 years ago.”
Gross adds that it’s a constant adjustment as your children’s own lives change, whether that’s due to a new career, a move or marriage.
WATCH MORE: Warding off empty nest syndrome
Maintain the joyful customs
Gross says if you’ve always decorated the house to the hilt but now it’s a source of stress, forget about it. Only maintain the traditions that bring you joy.
“Maybe it’s time to pass those traditions on to your children,” Gross said.
“You start to gift them some of the things they grew up with and they can decorate their homes with that.”
Be gentle with yourself
Gross compares the process of becoming an empty nester as grieving the loss of life as a family unit living under one roof and all of the memories that came with it. She says everyone will experience that loss differently.
“Some people can go through it smoothly and some can’t,” Gross said.
“We always say if you really are struggling with it and talking, journaling about it and it’s not enough, sometimes it is good to go and seek advice from a therapist. It’s all personal.”
Alter your expectations
Gross says parents whose children have been away at university or college often have big hopes for the holidays, but they may need to adjust their plans.
“You might have this amazing day planned where we’re going to do this, that, shop, bake, wrap presents and they’re like, ‘Mom, I have friends to see. I want to go out and hang and do things.’ So all of a sudden, this one day becomes an hour here, an hour there,” Gross said.
“Don’t sweat it. They’re excited to come home to see their friends. Manage the expectations… The more communication and the more flexibility that you provide, the more joyful and easier the visit will be.”