Back when I was pregnant for the first time, I would often daydream about all the things I would one day do with my future kids. Most of them were things I did when I was young that held a special place in my heart and soul — like how my parents would always make a big breakfast on Saturday mornings as we watched cartoons, or how my mom would serve homemade hot chocolate after a big sledding session. We were treated to fast food on the last day of school, and would go for long drives in the country and pack a lunch and stop to eat at a random spot. My father would even go out and find real deer poop and bring it in the house on Christmas Eve night. We would wake up and believe Rudolph had really been in our house!
There’s just something about expecting a child that can suddenly throw us back to a simpler time, when watching Sesame Street and riding a new red tricycle around in the driveway was our whole world. It can be so nostalgic; suddenly, we’re digging up memories we haven’t thought about in forever, and we want our kids to have the same experiences and feel the same sense of wonderment we used to.
My son was only 3 months old when he had his first Christmas, but I still stuffed a stocking and bought gifts for him to “open.” As I was decorating the house, I remember a lot of my motivation was all in an effort for him to enjoy it — even though I knew it didn’t matter to him at all, and was actually pretty silly. At that age, babies pretty much care about three things: eating, sleeping, and being held. But I didn’t care; I wanted to make things magical.
I would go on to have two more kids on the heels of my first, and dove headfirst into making all the special memories and family traditions I could. I wanted to relive some of the specialness from my own childhood, as well as let some new ones blossom that were unique to our family — like hiding jelly beans for Easter morning, going out for Chinese food with family after church on Christmas Eve, and one of my all-time favorites, strawberry picking in early summer and making jam as a family.
If I’m being honest, I wanted this for my kids, but I wanted it for me, too. So much meaning can come from time-honored traditions, and I love every bit of what they can come to represent.
But these days, my kids are getting older faster than I can keep up, and the family traditions seem to be slipping away little by little with each year. Somehow, they just don’t seem as special any more — and it’s something I’m really struggling with.
There have been times I’ve beat myself up, trying to make magic come alive again and again. But I have come to realize you simply can’t force the magic. The dynamic of our family is changing all the time, and it was a hard realization for me that things can’t always stay the same.
Change is hard; letting go is even harder.
We used to vacation every February in a quaint little town next to the ocean. We would go snow tubing, eat burgers at a restaurant next to a giant waterfall, and watch the kids swim in the hotel pool for hours.
We did this for over six years. The first time it was so special and I felt like I had bonded with my family in a way I never had before. There was no cleaning or cooking on my part and the kids got a long so well. It felt like a true vacation.
But the last few visits have fallen flat. The kids were bored, it all felt forced, and we went to all the same places and did all the same things. Perhaps we’re ready for a new place, or maybe the magic slips away when we’re trying so hard to capture those old feelings — the ones we felt the first few years we made the trip, when everything was new and exciting. Maybe we need to loosen up and try new things and realize that each time can be different; we can go to new places and try new things and still feel bonded.
But still; it’s hard.
While it may sound silly, I’ve felt extremely sad about letting some of our traditions go, doing less, and simply living in the moment more. It makes me feel like I’m somehow slacking or failing to put in the effort, now that I’m not leaving out cookies for Santa, hiding the Elf on the Shelf, or buying them stuffed bunnies for Easter.
There is an upside to all of this, though. In a way, it’s been somewhat freeing; and it certainly takes the pressure off things, allowing me to actually focus on my kids during a holiday, rather than the hoopla around it.
It forces me to relax. It takes things off my never-ending to-do list. And it opens us all up to new experiences.
Like it or not, sometimes families simply outgrow traditions. At least, this is what I’m starting to learn. I cannot force my family to love to do something if they no longer enjoy it, nor do I have to keep loving something that feels forced.
And that’s okay. Because when you leave old traditions behind, you make room for new ones to come into your life; and that’s when the real magic happens.