One night last December, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table making Christmas cookies…by myself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just wasn’t the plan. That was not our tradition.

Now that my kids are teenagers with busy schedules of their own, no one else was home but me. So there I sat, clinging to my tradition, making cookies alone, feeling pretty sad about the whole thing. (I’m sure I let everyone know about it when they got home.)

One thing parenting has taught me about traditions is they are easy to start and hard to let go. So, what happens when the kids get older and you find yourself experiencing more transition than tradition? 

The first thing I had to do was accept that transition is a part of life. It’s evident my kids are growing up, which is a good thing. It’s okay they don’t want to watch Frosty the Snowman or make ornaments out of felt anymore. Now that they’re in college and high school, their interests have changed . They are transitioning. Knowing that, if we want to stay connected with our kids, we may need to tweak a tradition or even start a new one.

Secondly, their dad and I had to decide which traditions were worth clinging to and which ones we needed to let go. We did this by simply asking the kids which traditions meant the most to them. This helped so much! I was surprised by some of the things they said, like getting a peppermint milkshake in our PJs while driving around looking at Christmas lights had to stay. That one still gets two thumbs up! Making the gingerbread house on the other hand, that could go. (And while we’re at it, the Christmas cartoons could go too!) Who knew? They knew! Deciding on traditions with the kids gave us permission to let go of some things—guilt free—and to stop trying to force moments to happen they had outgrown.

Finally, I had to remind myself of the purpose of traditions in the first place. Traditions are meant to keep us connected to the ones we love and give us a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, not to make us feel exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed (or maybe even a little depressed). As long as I have a relationship with my kids, things are good. We don’t have to make Christmas cookies to stay connected, to have a relationship, or even to have a wonderful Christmas. We just need time with each other.

Now that I have one kid away at college and two teens at home, being together in the same place at the same time is difficult, which makes keeping up with our traditions difficult. I’m learning to make the most of the time I have with my family rather than pout over the time I don’t have.

If we have some minutes in the car, we turn up the Christmas music and sing together. So what if we’re not gathered around the fireplace like we did when they were younger.

Since watching the holiday Hallmark movies is one of my kids’ favorite things to do, I make sure and record them so when we find ourselves together, I can pop the popcorn and have a spontaneous movie night.

I allow my kids’ friends to join the fun because my kids really like being with their friends. Rather than look at it like their friends are invading our traditions, I’m thankful my kids and their friends are letting me hang out with them. It’s all in your perspective.

The point is, we’re together, staying connected with the ones we love during the holidays. After all, when you really think about it, it’s the relationship with your kids you should be fighting for, not the tradition. So keep a loose grip on those traditions, but hold tightly to the hearts of your kids.