In my family, on your birthday, you get to pick where or what you’d like to eat for your birthday dinner. My birthday is in April and I always request a Thanksgiving-like turkey dinner. My son recently celebrated his birthday and chose to have dinner at a chain restaurant popular with kids. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is tradition in my family. We all have dinner together, then we come home and have cake. Every year, every birthday.
We all have traditions or rituals in our families that make our family who it is. So what happens when our parents aren’t able to participate in the tradition? I know at some point, my mom will no longer be able to make a Thanksgiving-like turkey dinner for me. Will my birthday be ruined? Of course not, we’ll find ways to still celebrate the best we can.
Losing the ability to spearhead a tradition can be difficult for an elderly person to accept. I know my grandmother made her traditional Easter feast far longer than she should have because it was her thing. It was the one holiday that she “owned” and she went all out, complete with making a Rubbermaid tub full of traditional cookies for our family. What can we do to help ease our parents out of spearheading and help them adapt to participating as a guest?
- Ease into the change. Your parent may be just fine and able to handle hosting the entire family right now, so there is no need to take it away from them. However, you can start helping out more, so that when the time comes, taking over won’t be so drastic. You’ll be their apprentice.
- Alter the tradition. Perhaps your family traditions are more physical than mine. My family tends to gather around meals, but maybe yours celebrates with a run or hike. I know a family that participates in a 5k together around the holidays. If you have a tradition that is physical and your parent is beginning to struggle, consider altering the tradition. Perhaps your parent can’t run the 5k anymore, but you can all have breakfast together afterwards. Or, if your family has an annual hike, consider changing it to a picnic instead. You’ll still be outdoors enjoying nature, just in a different way.
- Create new traditions. My mom and I shop together every Black Friday. We don’t get up early and line up at the store, but we go out into the madness around 11 a.m., just the two of us. Unfortunately, because of my health, it is becoming more difficult for me to marathon shop. This year, instead of hitting several stores, we decided which two stores we wanted to hit, skipped the mall and had lunch together instead. I wasn’t worn out and we still got to spend the afternoon together. Next year, we may skip the shopping altogether and get our nails done and have lunch together. It isn’t about the deals, it is about the quality time.
- Document the traditions for future generations. Sadly, no one lives forever. If we let one person be the keeper of tradition or a traditional dish, we may lose that tradition forever. I’m not going to lie, it can be hard to convince a family member to part with a famous recipe. I had a 92 year old client who made a special dessert for her family on holidays. She was the only person in her family who knew how to do it and it was a favorite dish of her nephew. His wife asked for the recipe and my client turned her down. She wanted to be the only person who can make it while she’s alive. Fortunately, she has the recipe written down so it will be passed on. Sharing recipes and stories helps preserve the family tradition. Maybe there is a reason behind the family hike. If it isn’t shared with the younger generation, it may not be continue because they don’t understand the significance.
Family traditions help families spend time together and have a shared history. While they may be the way you’ve always done things, they can be changed. What’s most important is that you are together and making memories.