Last year, we didn’t spend Thanksgiving with a single one of our five children. 

Did it feel odd? Yes.

Was it the best for everyone? We think so.

Our oldest daughter and her husband alternate holidays with his family and our family; last year Thanksgiving was with his family. Our oldest son lives in California and coming home for Thanksgiving just wasn’t in the budget. Our middle daughter, her husband, and our granddaughter were already expected at two different Thanksgiving gatherings on his side of the family. Our second youngest spent the holiday with some friends, and our youngest and his fiancé would have been happy to join us, but we decided to give them the freedom of no expectations and the ability to enjoy the day fully with her family. Instead of gathering our immediate family, Mark and I drove a couple hours to spend time with our parents.

I love the holidays but I don’t love them more than my family. I love traditions but I don’t love them more than the people I share those traditions with.

Too often the biggest “gift” given at the holidays is guilt. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is give our family freedom.

So instead of turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and large helpings of obligation on Thanksgiving, we had a family gathering of whoever could come for pizza and games the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Instead of ham, sweet potatoes, and persimmon pudding on Christmas Day, we gathered everyone together on a day that worked best for all after Christmas.

One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to allow change to happen as your kids get older. Their sphere of relationships grows exponentially when they marry and start a new family. These days I’m using phrases like these more often:

“We understand. It’s not the day that’s important. We’ll find another time that works better!”

“Your heart is most important to us. We don’t want to add any additional pressure by piling on expectations. If you can join us, we’ll be thrilled and if you can’t, we understand.”

“I love you. I love you the same no matter what decision you need to make for your sanity and what’s best for your family.”

Want to give a powerful gift this holiday season? Give the gift of freedom. Flexibility. No expectations. Unconditional love.

Your loved ones will thank you!

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