It's the time of the year again, where we try to coordinate our family holiday celebrations. Sadly, I think the holidays can be a stressful time.
When we were children and teenagers (even returning from college), it was simpler. My parents made the plans, we might spend time with extended family. For the most part, it was a very insular, calm celebration. What made it easier was that we were younger, we all lived at home. Some of us may have had significant others, but not necessarily a serious relationship.
So as adults, with everyone living on their own, it becomes much more complicated.
Some of my siblings don't live within a day's driving distance. Others work weekends or have unpredictable schedules. Some have commitments to spend time with their significant others' or their families.
There are also family traditions (Christmas morning) - which are not necessarily flexible.
Coordinating has become difficult.
Email makes it a little easier. I can't imagine phoning each of my siblings to try and determine when they may be able to come home and what their plans were. But email is also impersonal, and can be difficult to communicate my intentions.
Sadly, while we've all grown up and have our own lives, sometimes it feels like expectations haven't really changed. I know some of this has to do with age and place in life. The expectation is the some of us will drop whatever we're doing to hang out. Or that people will be able to sleep in or stay out late.
I wish that we could all agree on a common goal.
I know I personally have a goal for these gatherings. To make them as stress free as possible.
Yes, it's nice to see everyone. Yes, it would be nice to all play cards, go out to eat, watch a movie together. But sometimes that's not possible. With 8 adults, their possible significant others and two year olds running around, making everyone happy is next to impossible. Inevitably, someone may not be feeling well (tired, hungry, etc.) The two year olds get bored very easily, and really need to stick to a schedule (or else they are difficult to deal with). Even if they stick to a schedule, I can't vouch that the two year olds would not throw a tantrum in any situation (for that matter).
Transportation is also something that gets stressful. Because we no longer fit in a mini van (and we did at one point, unbelievably). Two siblings don't have cars, which is fine. Traffic is notoriously bad where my parents live and needs to be factored in. Family members are often late.
And we can't all just go out to a restaurant. Making a decision about which restaurant to go to is like pulling teeth. We can't go somewhere too expensive. They need to take reservations - to be able to seat all of us. They have to have vegetarian meals but can't be too exotic (Indian food was shot down last year). While my parents (still mormon) won't buy cocktails/beer at family restaurant dinners, they will (thankfully) buy coffee at the breakfasts. When this first started happening it was a big deal, I think it's finally become more common.
We also can't just make food at home, since it's such a large group. There's also a wide variety of tastes and preferences (including vegetarian meals). Inevitably, someone is disappointed by the selection or preparation.
I do love my parents and siblings. I do genuinely enjoy talking with them and hanging out. I want them to be able to spend time with my kids. I want to meet the people that are important to them. I do value the limited time we spend together.
It's just very stressful coordinating all these expectations. And inevitably, feelings get hurt. It makes it difficult to even want to attempt family gatherings, because they seem so time-consuming. I think the idea is that it should be effortless. No one should have to communicate their expectations or enforce boundaries, since we're all family.
I want to send the message (to my parents and siblings) that I understand that they have busy lives and commitments. They can't just drop everything. But, on the same token, I have a busy life and commitments. We can't always do everything we want to do.
Hopefully we share the stress free family gathering expectation. And if we don't, I find I have to just let it go.