Bring Peace to the Holiday Tug of War

Tips for Creating The Holiday of Your Dreams

During many a holiday season, when I was in my 20’s and a new mom, I spent an hour in the car getting to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, my husband and I would pack up the car and the toddler and drive to my mom’s house in the morning and then to my sister-in-law’s house in the afternoon. After the holiday, I was wiped out and angry – every year I vowed next year would be different. I was not having the Christmas I truly wanted, and I was frustrated – I didn’t know how to talk to my spouse about my holiday dreams.

But why do we do this? Why do we run run run during the holidays? According to Kim Leatherdale, a licensed counselor and therapist in Oldwick, New Jersey, women are naturally pleasers. We want everyone to be happy; we want everything to run smoothly. As a result, we rarely get to relax and enjoy the holiday. And we rarely have the opportunity to form our own family traditions. Many of us have not had the Christmas we dreamed about since we started our own family and succumbed to all the family pressure.

Talking about holiday dreams and preferences is not something most couples talk about before a relationship develops or even after you say the “I do’s.” But as the holidays approach, you hear little snippets about what others continue to take for granted. Your mother-in-law might hint about the menu for her Christmas brunch, or you might overhear your mom on the phone with a sister planning the Christmas Eve dinner.

Perhaps now is the time to discuss holiday plans with your spouse. Decide on a time to sit down and talk about it – just the two of you – before the invitations and expectations start to pile up.

Let’s sit down with a checklist –

  • Communicate – According to Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Wexford, PA, don’t imagine that your spouse is a mind reader. Sit down and talk about what you liked and did not like about last year’s holiday, and discuss what’s important and not important. Be willing to listen and compromise, and be open to each other’s ideas of how to handle the holidays, demanding relatives, and a demanding schedule. Fifty percent of the responders to a recent survey said they felt pressure from a spouse more than anyone else.
  • Start your own traditions – When you are living at home with mom and dad, that’s your bubble. Once you are married, that should be the most important relationship – you need to move your bubble to surround you and your spouse, according to Kim Leatherdale, a counselor and therapist in Little Silver, NJ. If you want to start new traditions in your own home with your spouse, do it.
  • Tune in to the kids – Be aware of your children’s needs and desires, within reason. If your teen daughter wants to see her BFF on Christmas Day, allow an opportunity for that to happen. Invite the BFF to visit on Christmas Day and talk to her parents ahead of time.
  • Be aware of feelings – Leatherdale suggests that you be aware of other’s feelings but don’t feel responsible for them. Understand that your mother-in-law may be upset with this new plan, but you are not responsible for making her happy – she is. And once you and your spouse decide on a plan, sit down with the families and discuss it together.
  • Take turns – Has the holiday schedule of visiting been a little lopsided? More time with one family or the other? Decide to take turns – this year we go to your mom’s house for Christmas Eve, next year we go to my mom’s for Christmas Eve. (And every year we spend Christmas Day at home!)
  • De-Stress the day – Wake up, grab the mug of coffee, relax and open gifts, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Ask visitors to drop in after 12:00 (or at a time designated by you), and ask them to bring a covered dish like a brunch casserole, a crock pot of chili, or a pan of lasagna or enchiladas. And why not use paper plates? You are de-stressing your holiday – don’t ratchet it back up by having to cook and clean up all day. If you must cook the big turkey, do just that and ask everyone else to bring the extras.
  • Recession adjustment – Are you feeling the pinch from recession or a lost income? Perhaps it’s time to start a tradition of having a family gift-giving pool or purchase gifts just for family members under a certain age. Or use this time to teach children charity – collect the money usually used for gifts and make a contribution to a local charity.

I polled about 30 people – young and old, parents and children, husbands and wives. I found that a handful of responders had family members who sulked because they weren’t getting their own way. Again – you are not responsible for that person’s feelings. If it’s necessary to spend part of a day with that sulky person, have an out – plan to go for a walk or to the park for an hour or plan a visit to the local science center or museum (check ahead for holiday hours!).

After a divorce you need to be even more flexible. Add to that a new blended family or additional in-laws. I celebrated many holidays and birthdays a week before or a few days after the actual date on the calendar. I would remind myself that it’s not the date that is important. Don’t push and pull your parents or children into knots just so you can have the same Christmas morning that you’ve had for the last twenty years.

Communication and a little forethought is all you need to plan a holiday dream. And may all your holiday dreams come true.

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1 Comment

Filed under Personal Articles, Special Events

One response to “Bring Peace to the Holiday Tug of War

  1. Joanne Ingram

    Your checklist is wonderful! There are so many people (including me) who experience the kind of drama and stress during the holiday season that you described. Your post is a great reminder to people that there is a way around it and that a stress-free holiday season is possible!

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