Embracing the New Normal: How Our Family Traditions are Changing

I’m one of the lucky ones. I know this very well.

I’ve had my parents nearby my entire life. They’ve lived their lives parallel to mine—always within arms reach. Unlike my childhood, where I was separated from my extended family due to the disease of addiction and my parents’ wise choices to keep me away from it, my children get to grow up with their grandparents around. My mom and dad have been there every step of the way, loving my kids and loving me through the hard times of motherhood.

But things are changing. My parents are getting older. My dad is sick. And although they hold a commitment to living their lives to the fullest, things naturally must slow down.

This isn’t the first time our family has been in this spot. My dad, for example, is a two-time cancer surviver. We’ve been down this road before; we know the pain, the worry, and the frightening unknown. We’ve had to be resilient through a lot.

I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel different now, though. For the first time, even our family traditions are changing. These are small changes, little adaptations to our normal routine. But small things can feel big in these circumstances.

My parents are getting uncomfortable making the long drive out to our house because of vision and other health concerns, so we do the driving every time now instead of taking turns. My mom doesn’t have an interest in cooking the big family meals for holidays anymore, so that role is transitioning to me. Even keeping the kids for overnights is changing slightly, as my parents just don’t have the energy they used to have.

These are changes I have always known would come. I’ve been preparing myself for the passing of the torch—the moment when I would begin to take over as the “leading lady” of the family traditions. In some ways, I embrace this. I am excited to get the opportunity to nurture my parents, to invite them over for dinners where they bring nothing but themselves and their readiness to see their grandkids. I’m happy to get to be a blessing to them as our roles necessarily change.

But it’s hard, and bittersweet sometimes.

There’s nothing that fully prepares you for these changes, no matter how realistic you’ve been about them. And I think something that makes the changes harder is that sometimes, like in our case, the changes aren’t sudden. It’s not like things just spontaneously became different due to some traumatic, unexpected event. Things have simply begun changing in tiny doses, sneaking up on us little by little. My parents are still active and so much fun to be around. They still have busy social lives, plenty of friends, and a devotion to their church and their neighbors. They help and support us in every way possible. They are a bright spot in our lives in every way. And although I’m not saying it would be easier if the changes hit us all of a sudden (Lord, save us from that), it does just make it a little harder to come to terms with.

Little by little, traditions change. New routines are established. Certain difficult truths begin to dawn on you.

When we enter this time of our lives, we are faced with a choice. We can pretend like these changes aren’t happening, choosing a convenient denial over a difficult truth, or, we can lean in. My family is deciding to lean in.

We never know how much time we have with our people. Just this morning, a ship in Baltimore crashed into a bridge and plunged all the cars into the river, leaving families uncertain if their loved ones are okay. The truth is, life can snatch someone up at any time, for any reason. And although we know this to be true, something about watching our aging parents transition into a new season in their lives has a way of bringing it to the forefront of our attention.

So, we embrace it. We embrace the reality that things are changing, and that is okay. We invest more deeply in these relationships because every day is a gift. We make sure to appreciate the moments, the big and the small, because one never knows when they might be taken. Most importantly, we let the people we love know it deeply. We remind ourselves that each day is an opportunity to make sure our people know they are loved, and appreciated, and will be remembered.

Changes are sad and heavy. But they can also be a reminder to appreciate the good, to make the memories, to lean in.

Hug your loved ones.

Every day with them is a gift.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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