The holidays bring together families who may only have to see each other once a year, if they’re lucky. What is actually experienced over the holidays is often less than the ideal image we have in our mind’s eye.

By Kent Mulkey

The holidays bring together families who may only have to see each other once a year, if they’re lucky. What is experienced over the holidays is exactly what keeps families from getting together more often; lingering childhood hurts and jealousy, a brother’s spouse that is not well-liked by others in the family, and one adult child who shows up late and brings lousy gifts. . . OK, stop looking my way.

When aging parents are part of the dynamic, many adult children stick their heads firmly in the sand. To be fair, who wants to see the changes, decline and greater needs that mom and dad may have? I mean, they are our parents, and parents take care of everything: food, clothing, warmth, love and, even, the weather.  

Does It Work?

As comfortable and secure as it is to hold on tight to how things used to be . . . the people it may not serve well are your mom and dad. Sure, they may look OK, and certainly they are going to say that everything is fine. Often, when one spouse has a serious health condition, the healthier of the two will fight like mad to cover for the other, especially in front of anyone who might reveal the truth to their family.

Making It Worse

Because of the plethora of content out there that admonishes adult children to take clear, measured and urgent steps to intervene with their parents over the holidays, we may perhaps move too fast to push our parents to change without paying attention to how people change. In short, nobody changes because we tell them to or espouse the great reasons we have for them to do something different.

So, when you see your parents (or grandparents) over the holidays, start the conversation(s) by asking your parents a few questions to get them thinking about their situation, such as “How do you think your life would be different if you didn’t have to deal with your health issues by yourself,” “Why do you think we (family) are concerned about your current situation?”, “What do you suppose might happen if you stay and don’t make changes?” Get your parents talking. Take ample time to ask them about their life and legacy. Lay aside your agenda for them. Connect with your parents and help them connect with their past. By making sense of the past, future changes become possible.

As Clark Griswold said, “Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here.”

Your holiday will hopefully stop short of a four-alarm emergency. Slow down, sit down, listen closely.

The Griswold’s made it. Can you?