Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: You gave a really thoughtful response a while back to a friend who felt like she was missing out on celebrations of her milestones (http://wapo.st/1lVwmqt) because her same-age friends passed them a few years prior. I would love your take on how you would deal with this when it’s family who’s not reciprocating.
My husband is the youngest of five kids and our two children are the youngest grandkids of six: 18, 17, 15, 13, 5, 4. Our children’s births and events aren’t similarly acknowledged as were their older cousins’. For example: My son’s birthday hit at the same time as his elder cousin’s graduation. Party and gifts for the latter, no acknowledgment of the former.
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I understand the grandparents’ energy is much different at 75 than it was at 62 — and the aunts and uncles are now raising teenagers, who have completely different needs. Should I just not be comparing the treatment of those grandkids who came first? Do I just accept the fact that we’re having a different experience?
DEAR UNEQUAL: Yes, exactly. The world is a big place, and your kids’ worlds are bigger than the limited world of their extended family. Where your husband’s family isn’t jumping in with the experiences you were hoping for, you can jump in to give your kids a different experience entirely.
If you’re really feelin’ it, this can be liberating. For example: Christmas for the older cousins used to be a big multifamily melee, right? Which was great for them? Which is why you want it for your kids?
All true, but those melees also become an expectation, which becomes an obligation. Curling-ribbon handcuffs. With the family in a different place now, you’re free to take your kids to [blank] for Christmas, just because. Think of it as Lemonade 301 Honors.
If it helps, people with small or far-flung or deceased families do this all the time. The only difference is that your extended family is right there and therefore seems like an option, which then sets you up for this disappointment you describe. If instead you see family as just a different form of unavailable, then I think you’ll unlock more possibilities, as well as pre-empt a lot of the hard feelings — and teach your kids the joy of flexibility versus fixed expectations.
We have always turned to our friends and our own sense of festivity to forge traditions around our son’s milestones, given both some mild unequal-response syndrome among hub’s family, and the absence of extended family. My son notices nothing other than his own delight in our own rituals — if anything, he feels sorry for friends who get stuck with “family parties” on their birthdays instead of having big, fun bashes with all their friends like he does.
If you don’t act like your kids are being deprived, they’ll never know differently, and if you go ahead and forge your own ways of celebrating without the extended family, they may even press their faces up from the outside and ask to participate.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Amen, thanks.