Note – Over the years, I’ve written dozens of articles. This is the only one that earned a paycheck (written under my former “Elliott”).
Do you argue with any family members about whose house/where/when during the holiday season? Then this article is for you.
The Holiday Tug of War
Holidays of yore
When I was in my twenties and a new mom, I spent many holiday hours on the road. First, an hour in the car driving to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve. Then, 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 on 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 the 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 – I wanted to start our own traditions, in our own home.
Why do we run?
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 as we want. And we rarely have the opportunity to form our own family traditions. Many of us have not had the Thanksgiving or Christmas we dreamed about since we started our own family and succumbed to all the family pressure.
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 Thanksgiving brunch, or you might overhear your mom on the phone with your sister planning the Christmas Eve dinner.
If you hope to put your own stamp on the holidays, now is the time to discuss plans with your spouse or partner. 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.
Communicate – As Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Wexford, PA, says, 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, 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, from demanding relatives to demanding schedules.
Start your own traditions – When you are living at home with mom and dad (or a parent and partner), 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 or significant other. If you want to start new traditions in your own home with your partner, 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 his/her parents ahead of time.
Be aware of feelings – Kim 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/partner 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. Instruct visitors to drop in after 12:00 p.m. (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 all day. If you must cook the big turkey, do just that and ask everyone else to bring the extras.
Lost income adjustment – Are you feeling the pinch from 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. Fifty percent of the responders to my survey said they felt pressure from a partner more than anyone else. I found 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, especially where children are concerned. Add to that a new blended family or additional in-laws, and you need to learn to bend before you break. Over the decades, 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.
Communication and a little forethought are all you need to plan a dream holiday.
And may all your holiday dreams come true.