The tree-decorating tradition in our house has always been the same: We set aside a Saturday night when we can all be home to decorate the tree together. Every year, I buy each of my kids a new ornament to add to their collection. I order pizza, make Chex Mix and chips and dip, and there is always lots of candy. Christmas movies playing in the background while we share this holiday tradition together.
It’s an event I look forward to all year long.
So did they, until recently. They would start asking about it in September, that’s how much they looked forward to it. They’d be bursting with excitement when I finally pulled out the decorations and said it was time to go pick out a tree. I lost track of the number of times I had to tell them to settle down over the course of our decorating night.
Times have changed quite a bit in the past four years since they all had the nerve to become teenagers at the same time. They don’t care about decorating the tree anymore. They don’t care about the pizza or my snacks. And they really don’t care about getting a new ornament.
The first year this happened, I cried.
My oldest son just wasn’t into decorating the tree, preferring to sit on the sofa and watch instead. After trying to get him excited about it, I gave up. At least he’s still here, I told myself, as he ate his pizza and criticized how his brother and sister hung the ornaments.
Then my daughter had to take a “very important” (ahem) call in her room. She never came back down. After waiting for her for half an hour, I could hear she was finally off the phone. I hollered up to her room for her to come back down, but she was too tired.
I collected myself and thought, My youngest is still here and that needs to be enough. Only, he wasn’t into it and I could tell he’d rather be getting his teeth scraped than trying to appease his sentimental mother.
The Chex Mix went untouched and I ended up throwing it out. The Christmas movies in the background made me want to hurl my slipper at the television. The lights on the tree hurt my eyes. What had happened?
One of our favorite family traditions went from being magical to feeling like a horrible chore in a blink of an eye. I was devastated for days.
The truth behind my sadness was that my kids were growing up and different things made them happy now. Because they didn’t feel the magic I was trying to project on to them, neither did I. It felt like a huge loss.
When the things that made your childhood special come back around, it feels like the best hug you could get. Then, when they go away (again) because your kids are over it, and have important calls to take, it stings.
I felt the sadness again the following year when none of my children were into decorating the tree. My son sprawled on the sofa and tried to throw a few ornaments on the tree as his siblings laughed. They all half-heartedly hung a few ornaments, but then they were off doing their own thing and I was alone.
I didn’t want to sob and feel sorry for myself like I had the year before (although I still did). So I decided to have a good time by myself. I took my time, decorated the Christmas tree, and enjoyed the experience as best I could.
The following year was a little easier and now, after having a few years of hanging ornaments alone, I find myself looking forward to it.
I still tell my kids when I’m going to decorate, and let them know that they’re welcome to join me, but I no longer expect that it’ll be a shared family tradition like it once was.
Decorating for the holidays has always brought me a lot of joy. Forcing my kids to participate in something that doesn’t bring them the same joy only causes frustration and disappointment—for all of us.
So I’ll put on the Christmas movies and decorate my tree by myself. I’ll remind myself that, yes, the experience has changed over the years, but that’s okay. Plus, I don’t have to share the pizza or candy now.