I thought it would end around 40, but it didn’t. I figured I would stop feeling guilty for me and my kids not coming home long enough for the holidays by then. I also figured the underlying comments from my relatives about me not being around would stop too. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

No one is doing it to be mean, don’t get me wrong. My wife and I have great parents and great relationships with our inlaws. By nearly every imaginable comparison, I am incredibly lucky for my family. Although we live 300 miles apart, we truly enjoy each other’s company. And although we see less and less of our extended family as everyone’s lives change, we can probably name 100 or more people that we call close family.

But every holiday season comes with a secret little present when you live away, a present that isn’t even meant to be given and in fact, nearly everyone would wish it away — guilt.

Growing up, my parents had lots of brothers and sisters, 10 in total on my side and probably nearly as much on my wife’s side. That meant for both of us, we grew up with houses full of cousins, uncles, aunts, and family members who got together and spent entire days enjoying each other’s company for all holidays. I remember those days fondly.

But my kids don’t have that same experience. When we do come home for the holidays, we are often shuffling between houses, spending a couple of hours here and there, all while my kids wouldn’t recognize half of my family if they ran across them at the grocery store.

Since we live out of state, my wife and I are forever trying to fight the internal battle of creating a life for us in one state, while trying to make our families, and our kids, grow up with some sort of extended family in another.

It is exhausting and to be honest, really makes us somewhat dread the holidays. at times. Between the stress, the rush, and the looming guilt, what should be a fun time of the year turns into 30 days of aggravation. What sucks, even more, is that it seems as if we don’t want to be there with you, which is not true by a longshot.

I spent years blaming myself. After all, I’m the one who went off the college, who worked hard to build a career, and who traded the opportunity to move back home for a promotion. Many of my friends and cousins did the same and it’s our fault for choosing a career (or money) over family right? Had we stayed nearby, surely we would have those iconic Christmas days you remember, wouldn’t we?

The thing is, it’s actually not really our fault and what’s more, we’re doing exactly what you did, and what you told us to do.

It started with your generation’s idea to have fewer kids. Instead of having 5 or 6 kids, your generation decided to have 2 or 3. You did this because you wanted something more than what your parents had, and a large family made that really difficult. You learned that lesson from your parents.

Then, it was you guys who pushed us so hard to make better lives than the ones you had. You had jobs but you wanted us to have careers and to change the world. You told us that we had no limits to what we can accomplish, and we should do and go however far we needed in order to make our dreams come true.

You also told us how limiting living in a small town would be and forced us to go off to college and to get a degree. You didn’t want us to make the same mistake you did by settling early and working at a job we hated.

So, you had fewer kids and your siblings had fewer kids. And all of you raised great kids who went on to have great jobs and great lives. The small town we lived in didn’t have much to offer so we all moved away, found great careers, made new friends, and created new lives.

It was exactly what you told us to do. 

Even more, it’s not much different than what you did anyways.

Sure, you remember the house full of kids and it’s easy to think that we should do that too but don’t confuse nostalgia with reality. The house was filled with your siblings and their families for the most part. Sure, a couple of cousins may have shown up here and there, but the bulk of it was your brothers and sisters, and their kids, our first cousins.

But, the expectation now is that it should include brothers, sisters, cousins, and their kids. You are hoping our kids would be close with their 2nd and 3rd cousins. We weren’t at their age. Hell, I can barely even name my 3rd cousins.

So, you raised us to do more, to see more, to achieve more and we did it. Thanks to you, we are able to provide a little more for our kids than you could, which is really the goal of every parent, isn’t it? How dare you make us better!

Then you had fewer kids, so you shrunk the family. Think about it, if you had 5 kids, you would be hosting the holiday dinner with a house full of young children. All of us would be as close as my brother and I are with each other’s kids. 

To tell you the truth, I’ve often thought about how cool it would be to have 4 or 5 brothers and sisters.

But, this is what we got. And what we go is pretty damned good anyway. So instead of harping on what we don’t do, let’s make new traditions, ones that fit with how the family is made up today. Here are some suggestions

  1. Now that the family is smaller, let’s do a family trip together. It doesn’t have to be something from the movies like a trip to Paris, but how about a large cabin in the mountains where we can meet in the middle.
  2. Let’s be super flexible with the date. Does it really matter if we all see each other on December 25th or will the 28th or 23rd work just the same? Is it against the law to eat Turkey the week before Thanksgiving, when traveling may be a bit easier for everyone? The goal is to get together, not get together on a specific date on the calendar.
  3. Let’s put significant effort into all getting closer throughout the year. If we can all strengthen our relationships with ourselves and our extended family in March and August, suddenly everyone will make a little extra effort during the holidays. How about a summer party, or let’s all rent a cheap beach house during the week?

And most of all, let’s all remember that deep down we all have the same goal. We all do want to be close to our family, but we do just like you did, we protect our own family first. You set the example for us, and still do, we’re just following your lead.