I’m going to go ahead and name 2020 The Year of Having Tough Conversations. For most of us, we have had to have some kind of difficult conversation with the people around us. Whether it’s talking about why your children aren’t in school like they used to be, talking to your team at work about business changes, letting your friends and family know where you stand on social interactions during the pandemic, or discussing the racial and political happenings of our world—we’re all having hard conversations right now.
I’ve always been known as a great communicator, and I accept that compliment with a lot of pride. It makes me feel good that others believe I do a good job at conveying what I think and feel in good times and in bad. But this year, I’ve been at a loss for words more than probably ever, and it’s likely because I’m navigating scenarios I’ve never been in before.
Pandemic aside, this year I wanted to change up the way I’ve always celebrated the holidays. In the past, my sisters and I would pack up and head to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For as long as I can remember, we’ve done the same exact thing every single year, and we’ve all loved every moment of it. But we never considered what might have to change should one of us get married or start a family of their own as I did.
While I’m not the only one of my sisters to be married, I am the only one who has a child, so my son doesn’t have any cousins on either side of our family either. So this year, it came time for me to tell my family that Santa doesn’t only visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house—he also visits my house. Meaning, I want my son to grow up with memories of celebrating the holidays in his childhood home just like I got to do.
Maybe you’re changing holiday traditions due to moving, growing your family, shifting your values, or something else (not to mention the pandemic has put a wrench in many of our holiday plans this year altogether). Whatever your reason may be, you might be feeling like a conversation is necessary before changes happen, and I encourage that for you. Here’s how I talked to my family about the changes I was making for my family:
1. I focused on which traditions I wanted to change
When having a tough conversation, it’s always important to be crystal clear with yourself before talking. The more you understand what you’re trying to do or say, the easier it’ll be to convey it to someone else.
For me, it was important to understand which holiday traditions I wanted to change. I didn’t want my family to think they were never going to see their grandson or nephew for the holidays or that we would always be apart for them. But laying out that distinction and those scenarios in my mind (or on paper) helped create a smoother conversation.
Ask yourself: what is it that I want them to understand from this conversation? What questions might they ask that I can proactively anticipate? What might make them sad or disappointed so I can try to be more reassuring? Starting with these questions may help bring you more clarity beforehand.
2. I shared why I thought these changes were important
Some people may understand the changes you’re making with little need for further explanation. Others, though, may not get why you’re making a change to something that’s been a tradition for so long. Regardless of which camp you fall into, sharing why you’re making a change at all and what it means to you will go far.
If I would’ve just told my family that they’d be celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with me on a different day without any further explanation it may have come off abrupt and confusing. But sharing what it means to me to celebrate in our new home as a family of three really helped them understand why I was making a change in the first place.
If anyone is upset by the changes you’re making, whether it’s pandemic related or not, this is the perfect opportunity to share what this change will mean for you and your family. Don’t skip this part; in fact, spend most of the conversation here so that you get your point across.
3. I emphasized what I hoped could stay the same
While I did want to begin making memories in my own home, that didn’t mean I wanted to spend the entire holiday duration apart from my family. I want my sisters to spoil my son in ways that his own parents can’t or won’t. I vividly remember being so excited to see my aunts at the holidays, and I want that for him too.
So, I made it clear to them that while I may watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in PJs in my own home, maybe we could get together for breakfast and coffee (a pre-pandemic idea, of course) like we always did. Or while we’ll be putting out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve at our house, maybe we’ll drive up so we can still enjoy a small and safe gathering on Christmas Day. It’s just little changes, not a big overhaul.
I want my son to grow up and remember the holidays in our home, but that doesn’t mean I want to completely scrap the idea of him also remembering seeing his aunts, uncles, and grandparents too. Sure, some of the traditions will shift but the feeling of being surrounded by loved ones will never go away.