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The Joys – and Challenges – of My First Empty Nest Christmas

By Deborah Voll December 10, 2021 Family

Christmas is in just a few weeks. My adult children, who finally, truly left the nest this year, were not happy when I told them about the Christmas I am planning for this year when they come home for the holidays.

“No tree,” I said. Arose a chorus of complaints. “Minimal decorations,” I added. More groans. Their reaction pressed my buttons. I wondered; would I capitulate?

Making Traditions… Then Breaking Them

I had spent years creating traditions and now I was going to break them?

I guess I had been dreaming of this “light” Christmas for a few years now after decades of all-out Christmas. As a solo parent, I had always wanted to give my kids a dream Christmas. Since they were born, I was the kind of mom who would dress them up in matching outfits and we’d go to a professional photographer for a Christmas photo.

And every year I bought that year’s special annual Christmas frame for the photo. I now have amassed over 20 of these frames and finally stopped in 2020. (I wonder who’s going to want these frames when I am gone?)

I decorated the house each year to the max. I insisted on magical. If I was struggling to make ends meet, I’d take a second job to foot the bill. I recall that for several years I babysat other people’s kids into the wee hours so I could provide a certain gift or the additional expense for Christmas groceries.

I remember one year not having enough money for a tree and being vocal to friends and family about it. Trees don’t just appear, I kept telling myself. Hoping that one may appear on my doorstep. Somehow, I managed to come through with the tree.

My last “child” left the nest in February 2020, and I began to do some soul searching about all sorts of things. It was an interesting moment when I asked myself: What kind of Christmas did I want this year? I had a vision of peace and togetherness, of celebration with ease. I said the words aloud to myself, “I want a year off.” Or maybe, many years off!

I didn’t want to crowd my home with all the decorations of Christmases past that only I would be there to enjoy. I’d been wanting a faux tree for years, but my kids loved the ritual of choosing the biggest tree and my son loved cutting it down and hauling it to the car. Oh sure, once up it looks gorgeous, but my kids are so busy with their new lives, and in the end, it would be me looking at it alone in the evenings.

I don’t need to tell you the work of taking out all the ornaments and lights, putting them on, and then putting it all away afterward. I get exhausted just thinking about it!

Sure, my kids will come on Christmas Day, but I realized this year, it’s just too much for me. I deserve a break.

So, I broke it to them: “No tree.” I realized that making traditions is beautiful and worthy, but breaking with tradition is refreshing and beautiful in an entirely new, creative way.

Setting New Boundaries — and New Expectations

“Where will we put the presents on Christmas morning?” they asked.

Well, to be honest, I haven’t given gifts to the kids for a couple of years now. I’m sure you can relate. As they’ve gotten older, I support them with gifts of new tires, or “adulting” needs. I prefer to support them on an ongoing basis as needed. You know that as parents we want to help our kids when they run into difficulties. Meaning, any day can be “Christmas.”

Over the years, I’ve only been doing stocking stuffers. Little things in the spirit of the day to have the fun of unwrapping. Good things come in small packages… and I fudge a bit (a lot!) and many of these little things don’t even fit into the stocking and end up taking over the coffee table! No tree is required. 

“I’m going away this weekend,” I said to them. “How about you come into the house while I’m gone and put up the Christmas Villages that you love so much.” They are beautiful, and if they wanted to see them, they would need to take them out, put them up, and put them away afterward.

Let’s see if they’re up when I get back!

New Christmas Celebrations

For me, Christmas is about getting together with friends and family. I also have a trip planned with my parents that will create some wonderful new memories. We also have our annual Christmas tea and this year something new is planned! A Christmas cookie bake day together! As for friends, frosty walks, get-togethers over cups of tea, and baked goods are planned!

This year, my holiday is about connecting with those I love, and not the traditional decorations of the past. I’m not going to be worried about how my house is decorated. Rather, I’m going to enjoy everyone else’s trees and lights!

I hope you don’t think I’m the “grinch” or “skipping Christmas” like the Kranks! No way! Instead, I’m concentrating on the “reason for the season” and am delighting in giving to those less fortunate and “being present” for the people I love as we spend precious time together.

I’ll Do It My Way

This year, I want a break; this chick has had it! Maybe next year I’ll want the big tree, and I’ll post a picture of it. But this year, I’m laying low, and it feels oh so good. I’m not apologizing to people, but instead, telling them about my decision because I feel people need to see that you can do things differently and not be a slave to traditions that don’t work for you anymore.

There are already too many heightened expectations at this time of the year. Stress is not a gift. Busyness is not a gift.

It’s all about “you do you” with no apologies. Do some soul searching about what you want, about what you need. Invest your time, energy, and resources into the things that matter to you but mostly, the people who matter to you.

I’m thrilled to have this refreshing new experience of Christmas. I realized it’s okay to have a different plan for this year. That doesn’t mean that it needs to be forever. One Christmas at a time.

I will, though, take a couple of special Christmas photo frames from the past and place them on the mantle with some greens. It will be enough – and it will be everything.

I hope that my story will inspire you to examine whether your holiday plans are still good to go, or you need to hit pause and refresh. These are some of the things we talk about in my life and career coaching sessions because sometimes we need a reboot in many areas of our lives.

How are you celebrating Christmas this year? Are you going all out – for you? Or are you going light – for you? Or perhaps you’re planning a family get-together?

Let's Have a Conversation!

The Author

Deborah Voll, Certified Life and Career Coach helps women who feel stuck. “Helping you identify your passion and how to get it is my calling.” Reentering the workplace, changing careers, or retired and wondering what’s next. Get a free call at www.deborahvoll.com and listen to her weekly podcast, “Calm the Chaos.”

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