Tell your family where to go, or more accurately, where you’re going! The holidays can tend to serve up a main dish of dysfunction in many families. It’s a focus of discussion with a lot of the couples I work with because of the level of stress involved with dealing with extended family. This month I’m doing a series of articles to help couples with handling the holidays and family.
Let’s get started with determining where to go this holiday and how to handle expectations.
1) As a couple, DECIDE what kind of holiday you want. Be open to compromise. Do you want a small, private gathering? A large, raucous event with both family and friends? Do you want to host? Are you wanting to cook? Are you desiring to stay in town or go on a trip instead? Should football be at the center, or family games? Focus on what you, your spouse, and your kids want to do. If you have older kids or teens, be sure to include them in the discussion. Take a moment to dream for yourselves before trying to determine how to incorporate Aunt Betty’s demands. Then, after you’ve decided what you’d like to do, start considering what the family-at-large is desiring and see if there is a way to combine the two.
2) Once you have decided what your immediate family wants, then COMMUNICATE it to your relatives and invite discussion. Listen to their desires and share yours. Here’s the trick – you speak with your family and your spouse speaks with theirs. It gets very convoluted if you go beyond these boundaries and a lot of emotions begin to come into play, usually resentment. Irrational conclusions can arise, such as, “I knew she never liked us.” This is also a way to show respect for your spouse. Don’t put them in the middle where their relationship with your family becomes burdened. It’s your job to set boundaries with your family, as it is your spouse’s job to set boundaries with theirs. Be respectful when talking with your families. During this process be sure to communicate to them how much you love them.
3) Whatever you decide to do, be FLEXIBLE. Maybe one year host your own event, then rotate between your family and your spouse’s family. Maybe you do a large family event on Thanksgiving Day, but then do your private event on Friday. Maybe you do Thanksgiving with one family and Christmas with the other. Blended families add complexity to the schedule, but the principles remain the same.
It’s good to remind yourself that you and your nuclear family are free to make your own decisions. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you are forced to attend an event. Others might make it extremely uncomfortable for you, but you ultimately get to decide what is best for you and your family. If you choose to attend, then own the choice.
Early in my marriage I had a family member express to us how they wanted ALL of the family together for Christmas and if that didn’t happen they would cry. This person was setting their expectations for the holidays. We had a choice before us. We could comply, do our own thing, or compromise. As a new couple we decided to make it clear with both of our families that we had our own expectations and we were going to start our own traditions. Our way of doing that was setting aside Christmas morning for just us. At the same time we offered a compromise to our families. Christmas afternoons remain open for visiting with our families. Sometimes we invite everyone to our place, other times we make our rounds to them. We also established an expectation that we attend church on Christmas Eve. After that, we’ll join anyone, or they can join us. Through this process we were able to establish our own expectations and compromise at the same time.
The holidays should be filled with joy and fun. Set out plans that will help you achieve this. Next week we’ll talk about handling challenging family members and setting boundaries. Also, for those who find themselves excluded at the holidays we’ll be discussing the topic of being uninvited