For the Holidays, Some Parents Are Leaving Their Adult Children Behind

Over the summer Viviane Trinh, 35, received a surprising email from her parents, her mother in her late 60s and her father in his mid-70s, explaining that they wanted to skip the family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations this year and take a six-week cruise from Japan to Singapore. “They asked if anyone had objections,” she said.

Ms. Trinh, who is a dentist and lives in the West Village, felt torn.

On one hand, she loves her family’s traditions. The whole gang — she and her two siblings, and their partners — gathers at her parent’s house in Stamford, Conn., where they have a huge Thanksgiving meal. The day after Thanksgiving they begin decorating the tree, and in the weeks leading up to Christmas she’ll drop by to keep helping out. Christmas Day brings another feast along with a gift exchange.

“I never thought our family traditions would change,” she said.

But Ms. Trinh also wants her parents to do what they want, especially since they are getting older. “My parents love us so much, they are always providing, and this is a chance to rekindle their own love as a couple,” she said. “People my age are making our own plans and having our own families,” she added.

This year some parents of adult children are forgoing family traditions and making their own plans, including taking dream trips. Their thinking goes: Our holidays have revolved around our children for decades; why not finally take time for ourselves?

But changing long-established roles and customs can be challenging.

“I didn’t realize how much I appreciated our family traditions and family time until my parents made this choice,” said Ms. Trinh, who is spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with her husband’s family.

Susan Rossen, 72, who works as a part-time hospice and palliative care nurse in Memphis, has spent numerous Hanukkahs with her three children, ages 46, 43 and 37, and her six grandchildren, ages 3 to 17.

But this year she and her husband are celebrating their 50th anniversary and decided to spend the holiday in Aruba. “We have a timeshare there, and we’ve come so many times with children, grandchildren, siblings, relatives,” she said. “We’ve never come with just the two of us, so we decided to take a couple’s trip.”

She feels the difference. “We talk about our kids a lot,” she said. “We are buying souvenirs for them.” The couple also made sure to celebrate Hanukkah with their child who lives in Memphis, along with other family members, before they left, and they plan to see all of them when they return.

But it’s also been stimulating to create new holiday traditions. “Last Thursday night there was a Hanukkah party here at one of the hotels,” she said. “There were several hundred people; they did candle lighting; they had latkes and jelly doughnuts and kosher deli sandwiches; they had a concert. It was really fun.”

Ms. Rossen said it wasn’t as big of a deal for her not to spend the holidays with her family since she sees them regularly, especially the one who lives in the same city.

It was the same reason Laurel Niedospial, 39, a middle school teacher in Oak Park, Ill., said she didn’t mind that her father and his wife, who both live in Evanston, decided to take a road trip to California instead of spending Christmas with her and her two children, 8 and 3. “Because I see them fairly frequently it didn’t feel like any sort of slight,” she said. “They even dropped off a box of presents before they left.”

She also said she understood that roles were changing with her family. “Christmas for me at this point has become mostly about my kids, and I am not the kid anymore,” she said. “We are passing the baton.”

Some parents who chose to be away from their children this holiday season are discovering they don’t like it.

Dinah Duvall, 75, a retiree who lives in Indianapolis, decided to go on a river cruise down the Douro River in Portugal with her husband. “I had all three kids and their spouses home for Thanksgiving,” she said. “My husband and I just thought, ‘Why are we staying around here? Let’s go somewhere.’”

It’s been a fun trip. “There are decorations all over the ship, and people are starting to be festive,” she said.

But Ms. Duvall said she missed her family, which sparked an idea of what next Christmas might look like. “I think we might talk with them and see if they will come on a cruise with us next year,” she said. “I love the idea of doing something new for the holidays with them.”

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