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Being an empty-nest parent changed my Black Friday traditions

Our family used to be the typical get up at dawn, grab donuts and stand in line in front of the department store kind of gang every Black Friday. We would load up in the minivan with the kids still full from the Thanksgiving feast, bundled up against the chilly November air and set off at 7 a.m. I would always have my first eggnog of the season and enjoy the sound of carols and twinkling lights.

Sometimes, we would be greeted by other families we knew who had managed to get out of the house a little earlier and were standing outside of the store waiting for it to open. The kids would run around with the other children, dashing through the aisles and hiding under the racks as my husband and I would try to be sneaky about our holiday gifts hidden under ugly sweaters and underwear.

The kids have all grown up, and my husband and I are learning how to make new traditions and how to be OK with the holidays without food fights and standing in lines waiting for the newest toys. It’s different, navigating the world without holding tightly to little hands.

Our traditions have changed because our lives have changed. My husband and I now have the time to work more on our relationship as a couple and not focus on how to be better parents. We certainly aren’t the same people we were when we first married; having children changes you and changes your attitude about the world. Now that we are almost empty nesters, we do things that are not as child-focused.

When the kids were little, it was hard to imagine there would be a time when they would go off to college, get married and live far away from home. They still expect that Mom and Dad still carry on certain traditions like making a big dinner for Thanksgiving, and I think it helps them to know home will always feel familiar — even when they aren’t here to see it daily.

Now, we see the children on Skype from their living rooms and send them gifts through the mail. I’ll admit that sometimes being around little kids makes me a little sad during the holidays because I do miss my children being home and being little. We decorate the house with the ornaments and decorations we couldn’t have when the boys would have crashed into them playing football in the house.

I still poke through the advertisements from local department stores, then toss them into the recycling bin. We know what the kids will need this year isn’t more LEGOS or another Hello Kitty doll. Now, they get a little extra help with rent money and new tires for their cars.

We’re embracing the changes we are seeing with stores like REI and others now refusing to bend to the Black Friday demands. Our almost empty nest is taking time out from the holiday rush to be thankful for the time and abundance we enjoy, help others in need and discover for ourselves new ways to embrace the holiday spirit without shopping carts and sweater tug of wars.

My husband and I still go out on Black Friday, but we have a new mission. We get a good breakfast and enjoy the feel of the holiday cheer. I get my first eggnog of the year, and he always tips the waitress a little more than usual. Then, we grab the dogs and head outside for a hike. The weather will be changing soon, and before the snow and cold settles in, we know the dogs are happy to be outside in the wild with us. I love the colors of fall as the leaves come crunching down to the ground.

The spirit of giving is what the holidays are about. My husband and I head to the gifting trees and pull tags. Gifting trees are trees usually set up by local groups, scouts or churches gifting to needy children and families in the area. We pull a few tags and go shopping for the items on our new holiday list. My husband likes to go to the bookstore and choose books for the children in the hospital.

Even though our children will come and go and bring their own families and friends, I feel like it is still important to create steady traditions that aren’t about pleasing the toddlers but about embracing the values of the holidays. Black Friday was always the start of the giving season, making time to see friends and family for holiday cheer, and making an extra effort to be kind.

Here’s a list of amazing charities that do incredible things for children and families this time of year:

  • Toys for TotsThe mission of the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted
  • St. Baldrick’sWe believe all children with cancer should be able to live long, healthy lives. Make a generous gift with them, and one day this dream will be a reality.
  • The Salvation Army – Christmas Assistance — This program generously gives both holiday gifts to children in addition to food, clothing and financial assistance to those in need.

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