When Home for the Holidays Doesn’t Seem Like Home

Elisa Morgan

You lug your suitcase and your child’s duffle up the stairs, knowing you’ll have to make several more trips to get all the paraphernalia out of the car and into place. After elbowing on the light switch, you wrestle the baggage onto the bed. The double bed. The one you slept on as a teen.

And then it hits you. The scent of adolescence. Sports trophies and dried corsages scatter memories from their bookshelf perches. A poster from a favorite band curls on the wall. Stuffed animals nestle on the pillows waiting to greet the next generation. You’re home. And yet…not.

Home for the holidays is pretty much a universally weird experience. And even if “home” comes to you with the reversed roles of your family in your guest room – which is actually one of your kids’ rooms with Legos and Barbies crammed under the bed – it’s spooky strange to be the “Mom.” The host. The one in charge. Then there’s also the “home” where the parents and siblings are not really your own, but rather an adopted-to-be-yours-through-marriage family. Good in many cases. Awkward in many as well. (What do you wear on Christmas morning?)

How do we get through the holidays intact? And in tact? (Wink. Wink.) Try keeping these guidelines in mind:

Grow up – and stay there.

Going home, and having home come to us, both have a way of slamming us “back to the future.” We revert. To old roles. To birth order. To previous habits of pushing against others rather than choosing for ourselves. Prepare by reminding yourself who you are … now. The mom. The wife. The woman. And yes, of course, the daughter and sister and daughter-in-law and sister-in-law.

There are new boundaries you’ve learned that you must erect to hold on to the “you” that is unfurling in your own, adult world. I remember working soooo hard to hold on to the grown up “me” in my early mothering years. At first it felt so stiff and unnatural. Pretty much mean. I didn’t even like myself. But I began to realize that it’s a process. That my extended family was also doing their work to integrate the adult “me” into who they were as well. And that what I didn’t do well one year, I could work on for the next.

Compete not.

Perhaps you were the only girl-child in your family. You liked it that way, getting the princess attention all to yourself. But come Christmas, suddenly there is another – or others – in the mix. Daughters of your in-laws and sisters of your husband and wives of your brothers. Other grandchildren, male and female. And the comparisons begin. She didn’t thank me for watching her kids all day so she could sit and have coffee with her mom. They didn’t keep their toddler out of my child’s special Christmas treasures.Resentment grows in the place of unmet expectations.

Peace on earth can begin with understanding that your parents desire harmony among their children. All of their children. Their original children and their children by marriage. Notice that somehow they are able to love them all. Equally. In spite of mistakes and woundings and social gaffes.

Love can grow to go around. Let it!

Relax a bit.

If there is a bunch of people in the house, there will be different habits and quirks that annoy. So your sister has a “whatever” attitude for her children’s tech time while you strategically limit your child to 30 minutes before bed. So your brother-in-law plants himself in your husband’s chair, watching football for hours on end. So your mother hand washes the pots and pans because she thinks that gets them cleaner.

In five years will you remember? In five weeks will you care? Keep in mind that in five days you’ll have your house back to yourself; and chances are you do something that annoys others too. Relationships are what last.

Faithfully embrace you.

One of the prickliest challenges around the holidays can include our faithful expression. You and your family go to church. Your extended family doesn’t. Or your family celebrates the birth of Jesus but you’re not sure just what you believe. Gently now…can you accept each individual in their journey? There are many ways to celebrate Christmas. Embrace the process for yourself and others with respect and love.

Home for the holidays is more than how people celebrate, decorate, cook, play, wrap, church or even pray. Home is where the you is.

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For twenty years, Elisa Morgan served as President and CEO of MOPS International. Today she carries the title, President Emerita. She’s a speaker and the author of
She Did What She Could, The Beauty of Broken and most recently, Hello, Beauty Full.You can connect with her musings on life and leadership in her “Really” blog atelisamorgan.com. Her wildest joy comes from grandparenting her nearly twelve-year-old and her twelve-month-old grandsons.