by Kristy Campbell
I love this time of year. It is especially joyful for those of us with blended families because there is an extra element of joy in arranging the logistics of who goes where when and for how long. But this year with a teenager who wants to call her own shots, I’m finding myself stuck between a menorah and a tree. Holiday Musical Houses is not my idea of a fun family party game.
My daughter is 17, off to college next year, and has had to endure the back-and-forth of households since she was 5 year old. This year, she has asked to spend her last Winter Break at home with her 4 siblings and me here in California. Her dad would like her to spend it with her 2 siblings and him there in New York. I’m wondering if I could sneak away to Hawaii on my own. Part of me feels as though my daughter has earned her say about how she spends her vacation time, but another part wonders if she is able to understand the importance of choosing family over herself at such a self-focused time of her life.
It’s important to note that she’s not a selfish child. She’s a normal teenager and teens are designed to be self-absorbed. It’s in their child development DNA. Much like a toddler who learns about his world in relationship to himself, teens are revisiting and perfecting this me vs. world relationship. This time around, though, the stakes are heightened because their future is looming and their need to figure out where their specific place is in the world is as consuming as a toddler’s “me want” tantrums. For parents of a teen, this phase is exceptionally challenging because of the daily need to interject the sense of “other” into their teen’s world. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said something to the effect of “you’re not the only one in this family/country/world/Milky Way galaxy”…
Holidays have always seemed to me to be the perfect time to reinforce this message of connectedness, as opportunities for family meals, neighborhood get-togethers, and charity work abound. I’ve spent the past 12 years trying to build a sense of cohesiveness for my daughter within her rebuilt family. What hit me when she asked if she could just stay home this year is that the holidays are the worst time to show a child from a divorce about family bonding, especially as you are driving her to the airport. Telling her that she’d be missed at the annual holiday open house or that I’d be calling to say hi on New Year’s Eve doesn't teach her anything other than that her parents’ lives went on and she isn’t sure where she belongs.
These last few months, in preparing her to leave home and head off into the world next year, I’ve given her latitude in her life and have asked her to make responsible decisions for herself on everything from her curfew, credit card, and college applications to alcohol, drugs and sex. It seems wrong to continue to mandate required holiday family hours. Instead, she should be able to start to control and to manage her time with her parents and we should respect and support her decisions. But at what age should that start? I guess some would argue that as long as you are paying for the tuition, gas, food, insurance, and expenses, she owes you. I’m feeling that as soon as she is asked to make important decisions for herself she should be allowed to call the shots about her holiday vacation time. Will I be disappointed when she calls from college and asks to go skiing instead of coming home for Thanksgiving? Probably. Will I remember that same call I made to my mom? Probably. I’ll also remember that my mom told me to go and to have fun. No guilt. No pressure.
And, as my daughter moves through her life, if she happens to marry a man from a divorced family, I’m hoping that I’ll still be able to keep the game of holiday musical houses on the shelf. No guilt. No pressure.