Why Don't Adult Children Spend Holidays With Their Parents?

Young Parents Have Multiple Issues to Consider

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If it is unthinkable to have Christmas without grandchildren, grandparents must work with their adult children. Photo © PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou | Getty Images

Grandparents naturally want to spend holidays with their children and grandchildren. Many adult children, however, balk at spending the holidays with their parents. Instead they opt to stay at home, celebrate with friends or even spend time at a resort.

Moving the family celebration to an earlier or later date is a solution that works for many families. When grandparents are unable to get everyone home for the holidays, seeing all of their family members at some point during the holiday is the next best thing.

 Still, it's not the answer in all situations. 

Here are some of the common holiday issues, along with some possible solutions.   

The Other-Side-of-the-Family Dilemma

Sometimes the young parents don't want to slight either side of the family. Distance, work schedules, budgets and other issues may make it impossible for young parents to visit both sides of the family. To avoid hurting anyone's feelings, they opt to spend the holidays at home or far away from home.

  • Possible solution: One way to adapt is for grandparents to include the "other side" in holiday plans. This can work well when the other side of the family is small, especially if the other grandparent is widowed or divorced. It's hardly practical when both families are large.

Too Many Family Gatherings

When there have been divorces and remarriages in the family, young families may find themselves stretched really thin. Some young families are expected to attend multiple family celebrations during a two- or three-day period.

Often each celebration has its own gifting requirements -- a white-elephant gift for one, a cousin gift exchange for another, names drawn for another. No wonder some young parents become overwhelmed and opt out of all family gatherings. 

  • Possible solution: This is essentially a problem that the young people will have to solve. They will have to learn that they don't have to say yes to all invitations and that it's also okay to opt out of gift exchanges. Grandparents can help by making their own celebrations as low-stress as possible.

    Relationship Issues

    Sometimes certain family members don't get along. The problem may not be the grandparents themselves -- although that's a possibility. The problem may be someone else who commonly attends the celebration. Since alcohol is a part of many holiday celebrations, a person who is apt to overindulge can be a problem. Drunken holiday guests may be funny in the movies. In real life they are more likely to be disruptive and even disgusting.

    • Possible solution: Grandparents may have to make a choice between having their children in attendance and having other guests. It can be hard to "disinvite" someone who has been traditionally part of the celebration, but can be done. "We've decided just to have the kids and grandkids this year," is one way to phrase it. 

    The Problem of Holiday Hurry

    Sometimes young families opt out of extended family celebrations in favor of a slower-paced holiday. This is a more significant problem when the generations live geographically far apart. Two-career families may not be able to handle the idea of spending their hard-won days off packing and traveling, especially if it means packing up all of the children's gifts.

    • Possible solution: Grandparents could offer to travel to them. They could even offer to stay in a hotel to reduce the stress on the young family. This is only a solution, however, in single-child families. Grandparents who leave home to spend the holidays with one child risk impairing relationships with their other children. 

    The Desire for Their Own Traditions

    Young parents may want to develop their own traditions. They may feel that celebrating with parents keeps them from developing their own unique family culture.

    • Possible solution: Grandparents may be able to forestall this problem by allowing their children to make suggestions about holiday celebrations. There's no reason to stick to a particular tradition just because it's always been done that way.

    The Appeal of Holiday Travel

    Sometimes young families just want to get away from it all. Christmas at a resort or other vacation destination can be appealing. Resorts often go all out with special decorations, entertainment and meals. Grandparents may be invited along, but that can be a problem if other family members can't afford the trip or prefer to spend the holiday at home.

    • Possible solution: The smartest move for grandparents is probably to allow the young family to try a holiday away. They may discover that holiday travel isn't hassle-free, either, and be ready to return to the family celebration the next year. If they discover that they really enjoy the holiday away, grandparents can look at other solutions, such as early or late celebrations.

    We Can Work It Out!

    While family traditions have an undeniable appeal, sometimes traditions have to be dropped in favor accommodating the maximum number of family members with a minimum of hurt feelings. Both grandparents and parents can benefit from a frank discussion of holiday issues involved, the better to look at solutions. A family meeting in which options are offered and each family group suggests solutions can be helpful. 

    Grandparents can reduce the possibility of holiday separations by practicing strategies designed to keep extended family members close. They should also nurture their relationships with their adult children. Nothing can guarantee a full house at holiday time, but working on relationships all year long may help.