Do’s & Don’ts When The Kids Won’t Come Home For The Holidays

Debbie Reslock

By Debbie Reslock | Nov 26th, 2018

The nest feels officially empty the first time your kids decide they won’t make it back for the holidays. Up until then, your house was most likely the home where everyone headed. Which also meant your traditions, decorations, music, and menus. But this day inevitably comes for all parents – earlier, if you’re divorced and have had to share the children, or later when they’ve grown up and are creating their own families.

In between the kids off to college or on their own adventure who simply make other plans, not old enough yet to understand the emotional pull between a mother’s heart and her children’s. But don’t take it personally. Friends often trump moms at this age and the ski trip to Aspen or football tickets to a bowl game can usurp holiday plans, no matter how festive.

Once kids marry, there’s another person who now has an equal vote and they may bring with them a set of parents or step-parents whose wishes also need to be accommodated. But when your kids have kids of their own? This often results in redefining exactly where home will be for the holidays.

There are ways to navigate these new and life-changing events that can either smooth out the transition or end with hurt feelings and regret. If you’re facing a smaller holiday table this year, here are the top 3 suggestions for what not to do and 6 that can help you rediscover the true meaning of tradition.


  1. Make your kids feel guilty. It doesn’t actually work but even if you dampen their mood, it may only serve to reinforce how glad they are that they’re not spending the holidays with you.
  2. Refuse to see that the roles have changed. Your kids are growing up, even if you’re the one paying for that ski trip. And if they have a family of their own now, they need the space to create their own traditions.
  3. Ruin the holiday for everyone else. Traditions are important but they’re not worth sacrificing relationships over. You can still celebrate. Even if there is someone missing this year, don’t make the others who came home pay the consequences and wish that they too had made other plans.


  1. Be honest about why they’re not coming home. There are families where getting together this time of year is nothing more than an opportunity to argue or be miserable. If you’re critical about their life and choices, don’t be surprised if they look for a way out. Try to repair the relationship.
  2. Give your kids a break about missing the holiday, no matter how much you’ll miss them. It’s impossible to be in two places, or four, at one time. If you ever had an unbending mother-in-law who demanded every year that Christmas dinner be at her house at six, vow to be flexible. That goes for your college kids too. It’s okay to spend time with their friends, at least for one holiday. Try to be a good sport.
  3. Manage your expectations. Holidays can bring out the best and the worst emotions. They stir up memories of magical togetherness that may be more about what we always longed for than we actually had. Separate yourself from the people you see in movies and commercials. Those are actors reading from a script. No family can compete with that.
  4. Celebrate outside of the box. Think of alternatives that might work. But even if everyone is within a close geographic area, remember it’s no fun to spend the holidays traveling from house to house. Can the extended families be combined? Or could you get together a few days early or later? Talk ahead of time to find a compromise.
  5. Suggest going to them. Except for your college kid on the ski trip who won’t take you up on the offer, this becomes a solution for many families. Remember, there are advantages to not being in charge of everything. You can even take a break and enjoy the holidays. Experience what it’s like when you aren’t obsessively planning every detail.
  6. If you’ll be home without kids this year, try to start a new tradition. Watch out for those old holiday ghosts who will tell you it will never be the same. You can agree but remain determined to find the reason to celebrate the season. Plan a trip, go out for dinner instead of cooking, see a movie, sleep in or make a huge brunch and invite friends over. Decide not to be unhappy.

For kids who chose to spend the holiday with their friends, let them know you’ll let it pass this time. But for your sons and daughters who have their own families, give your support as they create their own traditions. Just let them know you’d like to be a part of them.

If you look back, you’ll most likely see a few new customs you created that were different from your childhood. It’s a natural progression. Yet while it may be hard to let go of your traditions, they’re also meant to be passed down. So is the torch. This day probably came much sooner than you thought it would and you weren’t ready. No one is. But life continues to move forward and we must as well.

If it’s time to hand off to the next in line, you’ll need to loosen your grip. It’s part of the circle of life for families. But chances are your kids will cherish the memories you helped them create and will even keep a few that someday their own children will pass along. It’s a piece of your legacy that you don’t have to let go of. And it may just be one of the best holiday gifts you were ever able to give them.

Debbie Reslock

Debbie Reslock

Debbie Reslock writes about and for the baby boomer and 55+ market, including the amazing journey of aging itself. Her blog, The Third Act, can be found at


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