Bring peace to the holiday tug of war

DSC01855I’ve posted this article a few times, usually after people start talking “holidays” or when I  hear Bing Crosby in TV commercials. I even got paid for it once when it was published in the print version of Valley Living for the Whole Family, Winter, 2011.

If you have a lot of family to plan your holidays around, this article may be helpful.

Holidays of yore

During many a holiday season – when I was in my 20s 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.

Not the holiday I dreamed of

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. But, I didn’t know how to talk to my spouse about my holiday dreams.

Why do we run run run?

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.DSC01721

The holidays are coming!

Talking about holiday dreams and preferences is not something most couples discuss 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 your sister planning the Christmas Eve dinner.

Talk now

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.

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. 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 my 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, 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 you be aware of others’ 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!

DSC01723De-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 compassion – collect the money usually used for gifts and make a contribution to a local charity. Or collect the kids’ old toys no longer used and give them to a homeless or women’s shelter.

Have a sourpuss?

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!).

Complications from divorce

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’s important, it’s the people I spend time with. 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.

Holiday dreams

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



Filed under Personal Articles, Special Events

13 responses to “Bring peace to the holiday tug of war

  1. Oh, there’s so much wisdom here, Karen. And what a great idea to start thinking about it early!

    • karenrsanderson

      Better to start it now…like I said, before other people start planning your special days for you. Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth.

  2. Love this – though I refuse to think holidays on principle – even though Chanukah comes early this year. 🙂 Speaking of coming early – I hear there is snow heading your way. Keep warm!

  3. Another advantage of solving the holiday craziness is showing the next generation how to do it. My grandmother died when I was two, so I don’t remember her, but her wisdom was apparent at every family gathering. Her rules, like keep your disagreements private, and her insistence on individual families having time at Christmas for themselves, made holiday times with Mom’s family a wonderful experience.

    • karenrsanderson

      I remember all the tugs, this way and that, trying to please everyone. I never really had the Christmas I wanted until much, much later. Now, I’m the only grandparent in the area, so I get ALL the good stuff. And it was worth waiting for.

  4. Karoline Stock

    All good ideas, Karen. My son and his wife do the “every other year” thing for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It works for them. Ever since I’ve been divorced, I just try to stay flexible and go with the flow. I agree that it’s never to early to start planning. Thanks for the motivation.

    • karenrsanderson

      Divorce does put a wrench in it, but as I said, it’s not the day, it’s the people. As a mother-in-law, I remember all the bullying from the previous MIL in my life, and I try not to be that person!

  5. Great ideas, Karen!
    Now that our kids have in-laws, we’ve had to start sharing them. So, we’re on a schedule of one year we get everyone for Thanksgiving and no-one for Christmas, then reverse the next year. It was really hard the first year, but it’s getting easier.

    • karenrsanderson

      Perhaps you should get WITH the in-laws and plan a huge ole honking family day? Yes, I know about sharing. Though, since I’m the only grandparent within a thousand miles (heh heh), I don’t have to do that very often. Lucky me!

  6. Pingback: Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen | mytaintedview

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