Why I Don’t Force My Kids To Attend Family Gatherings Anymore

I didn’t always give them this choice.

Originally Published: 
I Don’t Force My Teens To Attend Family Gatherings .
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I remember being a teenager; I hated being dragged to family events. I’d have preferred spending time with my friends or alone in my room with a book. I had days when I didn’t feel like being social, and I had to go anyway. I hated getting peppered with questions from my parents about why I was in a “bad mood” or asked if there was anything wrong.

There was usually nothing wrong, except for the fact I was somewhere I didn’t want to be. I hated trying to explain that I didn’t feel social and the anxiety you feel as a teenager when you know you’re missing out on something fun with your friends.

I’m not going to do that to my kids. They’re allowed to spend their free time doing things they want to do. I let them make their own decisions about attending family and other events because I want them to learn how to spend their time with intention. I think that means teaching them it’s okay to decline an invitation to do something they really don’t want to do. Feeling obligated is a form of pleasing people. I’ve struggled with this too, and it’s not what I want for them.

I want my teens to know they don't have to come up with a big elaborate story or white lie if they want to cancel plans they’ve made, or decline an invitation. When Easter rolled around this past spring, two of my kids and I went to my mom’s for ham dinner. My oldest son went four-wheeling with friends — and that was fine by me.

I didn’t always give them this choice. When they were younger, I’d drag them along with me and it never ended well for anyone. I’d be discouraged if they were quiet or antisocial around people, and they’d remind me that they were very clear about not wanting to go.

I finally realized that making them go to events when they don’t want to and expecting them to morph into a different person and be all happy as soon as we get there isn’t fair.

My teens either work full-time, or go to school and work part-time. They all drive and want the same freedoms we all wanted on the cusp of leaving the nest. Forcing them to come to a family gathering or anything else they don’t feel up to has never worked in my favor. Not to mention they know I can’t physically force them to get in the car and go anywhere because they are all bigger and stronger than me.

The funny thing is, because I’ve given them this freedom, there aren’t many things they don’t want to attend. They’d never even consider missing a funeral or wedding. They want to be part of a community and a family. They just want autonomy, too.

They’re old enough to make decisions about where they want to be. And I’ve realized it is a whole lot easier to respect their choices than it is to try and talk them into doing something they don’t want to do.

Katie lives in Maine with her three kids, two ducks, and a Goldendoodle. When she’s not writing, she's reading, at the gym, redecorating her home, or spending too much money online.

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