On the holiday-cheer spectrum, I occupy a space just barely on the joyful side of the pre-haunted Ebenezer Scrooge. I’m generally appalled at the materialist trappings of the season, and the assorted social obligations have a tendency to leave me more exhausted than entertained. If there’s anything to be cheerful about, it’s the possibilities of spending some time with our offspring — adults who otherwise have better things you can do than kibitz with their geezer parents.

So I had been a bit miffed to learn during the run-up to our traditional Christmas Eve family dinner our daughter and her partner had made other plans. The Boss Mare, true to form, didn’t actually get in touch with us with the relevant information. We got the lowdown (via text, of course) a few days prior to the gathering after inquiring regarding their estimated arrival time.

We knew our son, The Young Jarhead, could be spending Christmas Eve with some hundred other young jarheads with an aircraft carrier floating somewhere between Kuwait and Kuala Lumpur, so his absence was expected. But TBM’s cancellation forced My Lovely Wife and I to abruptly shift gears. Rather than the lively dinner party we’d planned, we suddenly envisioned ourselves stolidly noshing on Swedish meatballs while dutifully draining a bottle of prosecco — in other words, doing our best to pretend it’s not only another Monday night within our empty nest.

And a merry Christmas for you, too.

I’ve always felt a little chagrined when I realize how myopic I'm able to be when viewing these sorts of family transitions. The kids move out and I wonder why they never call (unless they need money), overlooking the fact that I seldom phoned my parents after I set out on my own (except after i couldn’t make rent). Our nest empties and I wait in vain for an occasional visit, knowing full well that weeks often passed between my very own brief appearances at Mom and Dad’s place. Our traditional Christmas Eve celebration gets vetoed and that i conveniently forget my own absences at the gift-opening extravaganzas my parents once hosted.

Kids develop, they leave home, they make their very own way. Who knew that would occur to my own offspring?

While I can’t say what percentage of my Geezerville peers are as oblivious as I am to these generational parallels, I suspect every aging parent must navigate this terrain at some point. As Mothering21 blogger Mary Quigley notes, it’s a transition that not many of us are prepared to handle. “For parents of adult children, the holidays can mean abandoning decades-long traditions, and that’s not without some angst,” she writes. “But parents have to adapt to the changing family dynamic.”

Shifting your expectations can be tough, explains author and psychotherapist Kathy McCoy, PhD, however it may be the only way to avoid expending holidays fuming over a plate of cold meatballs and flat bubbly. McCoy suggests a few strategies to generate as much cheer as possible:

  • Don’t fixate on a single date.“Maybe your adult children produce other commitments during holidays but they are happy to visit before or after. After the initial disappointment upon hearing this news, try seeing this less a rejection, but as an opportunity to expand your holiday season.”
  • Celebrate in a new way. “If you sense that the adult children are hesitating to get together for the holiday due to economic constraints, you might decide to simplify Christmas this year by suggesting no gifts — except, perhaps, for the grandchildren — and a relaxed day together with all the things you enjoy doing like a family.”
  • Reconnect with your spouse or partner. “With so much holiday activity and attention happily focusing on children and grandchildren, longtime spouses may not have much time for enjoying one another. If the kids can’t come for Christmas this season, seize the opportunity to do something you might not do otherwise.”

I can’t really claim our revamped Christmas Eve dinner sparked any tangible “reconnection” between MLW and me, but we did exchange a couple of gifts and enjoyed a nice meal. I might have felt more of the holiday magic had she not thumped me so thoroughly at Yahtzee after dinner.

Still, McCoy’s advice ended up being more prescient than I had imagined as the season rolled out. TBM and her partner showed up at a pre-Christmas party my sister hosted, and they dropped by our place in a pre-New Year’s gathering for MLW’s side from the family. And while TYJ was off defending the homeland, i was able to spend Christmas with his wife and her family watching our grandson cheerfully tear open too many presents to count.

And, once we do on every New Year’s Eve, MLW and I cooked up an early dinner, uncorked that bottle of prosecco we’d restricted to Christmas Eve, worked our way through the last of the Christmas cookies, pulled out the board games, and quietly acknowledged that there was, after all, plenty to celebrate.

Especially once i beat her at Yahtzee.