University of Illinois Extension

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright

Debbie McClellan, Family Life Educator

As a grandparent raising a grandchild, you may face special challenges during the holiday season. Families may have feelings of loss for the traditions and family members that are no longer part of their lives. Just as many other changes have occurred, there are now changes in how the holidays are shared and celebrated.

Here are some ideas for keeping the holidays less stressful and more "merry and bright."

  • Be realistic with the children. Discuss holiday expectations in advance. Involve the youngsters in what to expect and what they can do to participate in the holidays. It's often not possible to keep up all the traditional activities. Ask them which activities are the most important ones for the family to share.
  • Acknowledge that tension often increases during the holidays. Suggest ways for family members to chill out or manage anger and stress. If the children will be spending time with parents, talk about how it will be managed. Consider the transition time for children as they mentally and/or physically move "back and forth" between families. Give the children some time to adjust.
  • Avoid competition. Money and gifts can become bombshells that can pull family members apart. Feelings of jealousy may erupt between family members. Ideas about "what's fair" may need to be discussed.
  • Insist on special time to spend together. Holidays can often become a scheduling nightmare with no time to relax. Some quiet time together may give everyone a better perspective.

Children may want to be with all their family members during holidays. This can sometimes be painful for adults who are trying hard to adjust to loss and new lifestyles. More than any material gift, children may want to see parents and grandparents treat each other respectfully. If tensions and anger increase, try finding some neutral ground. Your gift of focusing on your grandchildren's needs instead of past hurts and angry feelings may be the most loving, meaningful gift you can give.

Gift Tree: For Realistic Ideas

Have each family member make a tree and five ornaments out of construction paper. On one side of each ornament write under $5, under $10, under $15, and so on. On the other side of the ornament, have family members draw, or cut out, pictures of gifts they would like to receive that match the money amounts printed on the ornaments. Display the trees where everyone can admire them and get ideas for realistic gift giving.