I come from a large family; six brothers and one living sister. For the past 2-3 years, we've been getting together for the holidays at a church in my parent's hometown. We try to take all of the stress away from my parents by telling them no gifts, we will take care of all the food, etc. but I feel my parents are still getting pretty stressed out.

I live 2 1/2 hours away and am a teacher, so I am able to spend a couple of days at my parents' house around the holidays. I do have 2 cats, so I can't be gone longer than that.

What I'm seeing is that I don't think my parents are really enjoying themselves. My dad is hard of hearing and having so many people around (about 35 when all of the grandchildren are included) is hard on him. My mom gets so confused because she cannot remember anything, even if it is written down and put on the fridge. She is still trying to buy gifts and cook but she can't remember what she bought, can't remember she made a list (actually she had 3 lists going at Thanksgiving, but couldn't remember she had one in her hand :) and can't remember how to make even familiar recipes that are written down. Telling her no gifts and we'll take care of all the food has no effect on her, because she can't remember that we told her that!

Anyway, my question is....should I step up and tell my brothers and sister that we cannot have an extended family celebration anymore? My mom hides her frustration pretty well when everyone is together, but I see it during the days I am there.

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You get off the roller coaster by standing up and walking away from the thing. Don't automatically say yes to events you know will be a trainwreck. Start by saying "not this year".

To do this you really have to learn to put other peoples' feelings to the back burner and not let fear of change keep everyone hostage. If they get mad, so be it. But if one person or part of the family makes a stand to change the way it's done, there are probably others who will support it. They just didn't want to be first to say it.

There are worse things in this world that mad or disappointed feelings. Everything in life changes over time, and there comes a point where it just can't be the way it was in 1985 anymore.

I staged a moderate level revolution one New Year's Day by using the really nice Chinet plates and fancy disposable flatware. The sun came up the next day. I know, in the bible when Great Great Granny laid the holiday table for the disciples, they did not use disposable table ware or store-bought instant stuffing. She grew the wheat, milled it into flour, and baked the bread for her stuffing. God bless her. I'm not GG-Granny.

Another cousin continued the coup by refusing to do the gift exchange anymore. It just was not in their budget - the end. I did a happy jig. We always gave nice stuff and got the Lifesavers book of candy in return. I was not sorry to see that tradition go one bit. I had more money to save or spend on my own family. It was just not fun sitting there watching 25 other people open their presents when I really just wanted a nap.

My husband & I work so much the very last thing I want to do is spend my limited holiday hours on the road back & forth to continue some charade that everything is exactly like it used to be. I don't want to be around that one part of the family with the undisciplined wild kids who scream, holler, climb on the cabinets, put their boogery fingers in the food, and cause general mayhem. I really want to stay home, cook my own ham, stay in my PJs, and do whatever the blessed heck I choose on my day off. Perhaps have a cup of cheer or three.
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Please don't stop this opportunity for cousins to get together and have a sense of their larger family. It is very kind and thoughtful of you to be concerned for your parents, but the holiday gatherings are not only for them. I hope you can continue to have them, and also reduce the stress on your parents. You are already having them "off site" and that is good. Catered might be good, but that depends on how important sharing home-created food is to your crowd. Perhaps when you are with your parents and you could "help" mom prepare a contribution to the big event. Or convince her that she is "retired" from the holiday planning and that younger people need their turn at organizing and preparing.

No matter where it is held, figure out a way to limit the time your parents spend at it. If the meal comes first and then all the kids play games and the adults play cards or catch up with each other, maybe two or three adults take Mom and Dad home to watch a movie they bring with them, or simply to sit and chat. Or the hectic play and chatting comes first and you don't bring Mom and Dad until the meal is ready to be served.

I just know how very important the family reunion times were in my childhood and in providing me with associations with cousins. I see how important it is for my grandkids to get together with their cousins and to see their aunts and uncles. As the family grows beyond the capacity of anyone's house, changes need to be made. As the excitement and chaos becomes too much for the elders, something has to change. I just hope you can figure out changes that preserve the essence of the event -- the bonding with an extended family.

Don't expect perfection. Sometimes coming up with "good enough" solutions is the best we can hope for. And that really is good enough.
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Cwillie I just have my 96-year old mom and me. The past few years of Christmas have felt very depressing and I can't wait for the holiday season to be over. This year I started a MeetUp group to make more women friends my age. I now have a group of seven other women friends, most of whom also have aging parents.

In the past couple of weeks, five or six of us over two sessions made homemade cards for service people (they to to the Red Cross to distribute). We also went to a local facility for folks with developmental disabilities and set up their Christmas trees. And we had our own holiday party last Saturday night, where we made ornaments that we all signed to commemorate the year. It's the first holidays for a number of years where I'll be happy to be alone on Christmas, because I had some "holiday celebrating" with new friends that felt very good. I plan to do more volunteer work each holiday season, so I feel needed and like my life has meaning. Sharing it with friends (because I have no family to speak of) is very satisfying.
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help2day, I'm not sure this would work in your family, but if they have a need, an urge, an obbession to shop and buy presents, maybe you could convince them to adopt another family whose circumstances aren't so great this year. My sibs and I used to do this. We'd get info from a county agency with ages, sizes, and wants. We'd tell the agency, "Remember, we are a large family so give us a large family." Then everyone would pick some person to buy for. "We'll take the 8-year-old boy," "I'll buy for the Mom," etc. And we also provided food for a holiday meal -- ham or turkey etc. When we got together for our family event we packed everything in laundry baskets to give something else practical.

The lists were really thought-provoking. One year we got a single dad with 4 kids. One year it was a disabled man and his wife and their children. Know what was on Mom's wish list? Household cleaning products. When you realize that a bottle of Pine-Sol is going to make someone's day, it really does seem crazy to keep giving more STUFF to people who already have enough!

This year a grandson suggested welcome packages for refugees. We got lists of the essentials from the organization that will distribute them. We are getting together for breakfast to pack our purchases. Washclothes, toothpaste, shampoo, and bright crayons and a little toy.

One year a company I worked for collected new pajamas for toddlers through teens. It was fun to see what everyone brought in, and nice to imagine some child being cozy and not feeling left out of the fun of getting presents.

I applaud the urge to want to do something special for others this time of year. But I agree with you, help2day, that often it is not the adults in our own families that make the best recipients.

Could that be a clue about getting off the roller coaster? Redirect everyone who wants to buy gifts to buy them for non-family members?
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Your main post and all of the comments have all helped me. Knowing I'm not alone REALLY helps. Although our situations are different. The holiday's seems to be stressful on those of us dealing with Dementia/Altz and other age related diseases/issues. The period between Thanksgiving and New Years are very stressful for me on top of being my 78 year old mother, who suffers from Dementia, full time caregiver. My brother and I just go through the motions. It's not a very pleasant time but my mother insists on decorating etc. Going through the motions, setting boundaries, detaching (with love) with necessary are things I had to do to take care of me. It's hard when you see other's and commercials "bragging" (if you will) over how wonderful the holiday's are.
All I can say is THANK GOODNESS THEY ARE ALMOST OVER! Once the holiday decorations are down and it's Jan 2, I feel a huge relief.
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I'm in charge of the "Family Party" for my family this year and am not on good terms with my mother at all. It is really hard to plan and execute a party when under these circumstances, I would not even be GOING. But, for the rest of the family, I am throwing a lovely party, we are going to play Bingo, because it's mother's favorite game, the great grandkids who want to will perform something --I have a ton of work on my hands. I'm trying to be Zen about it--and I did send an email to everyone asking them to keep gifts for Mother (she's the only one who gets a gift, we long since quit trying to exchange names!) things that aren't kitschy or unusable. (Sigh) I did talk to my sisters who both agree...this is the last Christmas party. We've all got big families and we have imploded and now are regrouping into smaller units. We try to have something in the summer so we can meet at a park and the littles have something to DO and can run and play.
Mother has tried to extract a promise from us kids that we will keep this tradition alive (I hate that emotional blackmail). I told her that once she's gone, she wo't care what we're doing..and left it at that. Christmas is stressful enough without trying to herd cats to a party they don't want to go to!
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We're doing Christmas here this year. My mother is upset because two of the newly-married grandchildren are spending Christmas with the spouse's parents. It is what I expected, but Mom can't grasp the idea they don't want to be with her. I tried to explain that the kids were starting their own traditions. She got upset and said that she WAS their tradition. She said that they liked the in-laws better than they liked her.

Well, of course the spouses do like them better. It is their mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. That trumps grandmother that they barely know. I don't tell her this, since it would probably make it worse. :-(
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I don't think it's not caring to need to change. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. There are lots of ways to recraft the family interaction besides totally cancelling forever.

To the people who don't have dementia and complain, remind them that there are an awful lot of people in the world right now who have lost their entire families to war, escaping war, terrorism, and other disasters. Quit griping about it being different than the way Grandmom always did it and be grateful for what we can do.

==Meet at a restaurant for a holiday breakfast or lunch if there are little kids. Supper if it's just grown ups. No clean up, there is a definite start and stop time, and nobody has to feel weird about having to leave. You can always schedule something else a couple hours later, so you have a reason to leave.

==As was said above, turn it into a service event. This one will absolutely grind the gears for the family who *have* to have gifts.

==Attend a religious service together and limit it to just that.

==Attend a movie together. Nobody has to talk to anybody else this way.

==Change the date. Yes, you can reschedule Christmas. When I realized this was possible I felt set free. There can be a structured family event on another date. It actually does not have to be exactly on Christmas Eve, Day, or whatever. My little family's time together is just as (if not more) important than the big grand gathering. There is no law or religious rule that says it can only be on the actual day of the holiday.

==Call in sick. You can only do this once. Maybe twice. This is the emergency disconnect if you are really feeling dread, nausea, anguish, and anger over the idea of going to the gathering. Your mental state is a precious thing. Take care of it.

==Schedule a Fun-To-You event after, as a reward for going ahead. If you have something to look forward to, it might not be so horrendous.

==Overlook stupid. Just rise above. Don't take the bait. Turn away, walk away, change the subject, pretend you just went deaf and blind. Whatever it takes to literally and figuratively not get pulled in.

==If you are holding the event, YOU get to make the rules. You can make it simple to conserve your effort. There is nothing wrong with just doing a small brunch, or just a coffee & dessert buffet. Get creative. This is not a competition. There's no photo shoot. Martha Stewart won't pop by. I promise.

==If mom/dad get agitated by a lot of commotion, then maybe the big party doesn't include them. For real. Just don't tell them information that will be upsetting. Plan smaller visits for them with a few people at a time. Go where they are, vs. bringing them to the party. They're included but in a way that is good for them.

==Just attend the family holiday party the nursing home/ALF/memory care facility throws.

==Reserve a room at a community center that has a play place for the wild children. The adults can sit and talk in one area and the kids can unleash the beast in another, and everybody is a lot happier.

There are as many other solutions out there as there are stars in the sky. Just don't be afraid to do differently. The world will not come to an end.
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I have been in charge of our family party for the past five years or so, but Mom has had the year from heck, medically speaking, and that has made it a year from heck financially speaking for me, because all of her bills, the house expenses (which are mounting as things that should have been fixed 10-20 yrs ago are now becoming a problem), and my own bills are all in my lap now that she's in the NH.

So am I doing a party this year? No. I told everyone very early this year, after Mom fell and cut her head open, triggering a downhill slide of medical issues that landed her in the NH - no family party this year. No one helps with the expense except to contribute a bit towards the rental of the hall we use for the party. I buy all the decor, the meats for the potluck, bring a couple extra dishes to fill in for missing items, supply all the stuff for the games, including prizes, etc. It's very expensive - but I did it because several of my relatives were not in a position to bring gifts for a gift exchange and I thought it was a nice way to give them something to open for themselves, when they were struggling to get their kids' gifts. We always had a good time...but I just can't swing it this year. There's no way. Plus it's becoming a real struggle for mom to be transported out of the nursing home, and her incontinence issues are a serious problem as well. So I simply told them no party.

I say just say no, if you can't do it or feel your parents can't handle it. Speak for them if you feel it's too much for them (or you) to deal with. I guess as I get older and have been a caregiver for a few years, I'm learning to say "no" more and more.
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help2day - I totally agree how healthy throwing out and donating can be. About six years ago we moved - only about ten miles from the old place to a charming little home on a lake! Short of winning the lottery this is as close as I ever expect to getting my "dream home". While actually about the same size as the old house and having more storage space I still made the decision I wasn't taking anything I didn't really love - I view this as a fresh start and know this will probably be the place I live until I'm too old to manage here. So we rented an industrial size dumpster. Being the baby of a depression era baby - I thought I knew better but I was stunned at the amount of junk I held onto "just in case" over 20 years. At first I was hesitant but soon got into the swing of things then moved on to over-zealous! Since my son is an only child and has sever autism I didn't see the point in hanging on to much "history" - no one to pass things down to - so out went yearbooks, photo albums etc. and the amount of cloths and furniture I donated! Some how I had over a dozen pair of black slacks for goodness sake! Anyhow - when the dust settled I felt amazing - lighter and free. There are a few photos I regret tossing - never occurred to me I could end up like my mom and forget who people are, what my own family looks like. But overall - I recommend the process! Now I am waiting for when my mom passes to get rid of another load - the stuff she passed to me that I never wanted but took out of obligation. I wait just in case she says "I'd like one more dinner on my fine china". God himself couldn't save me if she found out I had given it away! And I'm am finding myself once again accumulating "just in case" junk - so my New Years resolution is to toss five items a day for a month - little or big, five items. Give it a try - I think you'll like it! From one ex-retailer to another - have a good Christmas. Spend it however, doing whatever feels right for you!
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