by Rita Hardiman Ed.D.

Changing of the Guard – A Big Life Turn

How do we adapt to life stage changes with grace?  What do we hold onto, let go of, or reinvent as “The seasons they go round and round and the painted ponies go up and down……”

This past year I have been observing as well as, experiencing shifts that happen in families when the responsibility for holidays and other significant life events, moves to the next generation.  A common example of this is when the daughter or son takes over cooking the Thanksgiving dinner, or preparing the Seder meal from the parents.  Sometimes these shifts happen because of moves and geographic relocation, as when the parents move to a smaller home, condo or apartment and can no longer fit all the family members into their new space.  Other times it happens for reasons of health, accessibility, the passing of a family member, or job pressures.   Sometimes the change is just prompted by exhaustion and frustration over trying to coordinate all the travel arrangements on some of the busiest travel days of the year.  Whatever prompts the change, it can be challenging as well as rewarding.  The challenge for the older generation can be letting go of the tradition and quite frankly, the control of the cooking, schedule of the event, and even who gets included or invited.  For the younger generation, the challenge of rising to the standards of Mom or Dad’s special recipe or Grandma’s magnificent pies can be daunting.  Yet, like all change, opportunities and rewards are also possible if we are open to them.

In my own family, these changes, particularly visible at holiday times, have occurred gradually as a result of divorce, moves and the passing of parents and grandparents over time.  Some of the changes are abrupt, or at least feel abrupt, when the decision is made to not host Thanksgiving but to travel to a new place and to pass the torch to the emerging cooks in the family – my daughters.  In talking with friends and co-workers who are at the same life stage – over 50 – with children launched into the world after college, we may find ourselves being moved out of the kitchen entirely, or in my case being told, “Mom, your job is to coach the cooks, not be the cook!” after my attempt at “helping” quickly morphed into “taking over” the cooking.  Of course this feeling of being moved out of the kitchen can be a metaphor for feeling moved out of other spheres of life, or being relegated to the back bench as one ages.  That feeling, of becoming less central, or useful and less in control can prompt feelings of loss, fear, and unfortunate behaviors that involve butting in, criticizing, evaluating or moping and sulking.  No one likes to feel irrelevant, after all.  But the changing of the guard or passing of the torch (and recipes) need not lead to feelings of irrelevance, and unpleasant behavior.  Healthy approaches to aging and navigating life transitions with grace are possible if one can own both the inevitable feelings of loss with gratitude for what has been, and look for the fun possibilities and rewards that come with change.  In my case, changing one holiday tradition this past year liberated me from many expectations which were self-imposed pressures and allowed me to the chance to practice my new role as “cooking coach”.  As an added bonus, in discussing the holiday venue changes with the next generation in my family, we discovered a golden opportunity to indulge our family’s love of football.  At the end of our meal, we gave ourselves permission to let go of the guilt of roasting pans soaking in the sink, walked out the door and headed to an NFL game where our team trounced their division rivals.  Perhaps a new tradition is emerging?  By being willing to adapt and change we are creating new pages in our family history as the “seasons they go round and round…”

TAGS: Holidays, Mothers & Daughters