Once you marry, you are blessed with exponential numbers of extended family members – all wanting your time and attention at holiday time.
Keeping your family’s well being and wealth depends in part on family members getting along with each other. Trying to split time between family units at holiday time can be a major disruptor of your family’s well being. No one wants to disappoint their Mom or Grandma at Thanksgiving, yet it is bound to happen occasionally. You just can’t be in two or more places at once.
Here are some of the dumber and funnier things that have happened to us when we or our family members tried to deal with holiday family time.
Do it wrong.
Never discuss the issue with your spouse.
You would think that smart people would realize that all holiday traditions aren’t alike and that their spouse would want to continue their own family traditions and spend time with their family instead of yours, but that isn’t always the case.
We (my spouse and I) never discussed where to spend holiday time. I just assumed we would go to my family and I guess he assumed the same. Needless to say, we had quite a few unpleasant holidays with many last minute apologies and schedule changes.
Always spend all the holidays with one set of extended family.
Since the women typically do the entertainment scheduling (at least in our families), the in-laws often get cut out. My family always got Thanksgiving, Christmas and Fourth of July with his family sharing us only when they invited my parents over as well! Once in a while, we would make the effort to be at the in-laws, in which case my parents were angrily disappointed.
Wait until the last minute to decide where to go and then don’t let anyone know your arrival time.
Doing this one particular Christmas got us kicked out of both sets of parents houses! We were so rude as to not call anyone to let them know when we expected to be there and as a result, neither set of parents was ready to receive our family. We spent Christmas Eve in a motel room that year.
Talk on the phone to arrange the next with YOUR family while visiting HIS family for this one.
When you are visiting with one set of parents, really visit. Be there fully, be engaged in the traditions, conversations and activities going on. Don’t spend all your time chatting with your Mom or your sister trying to line things out for the next holiday. If you are spending Thanksgiving with in-laws in order to spend Christmas with your relatives, make sure your in-laws are aware of your plans.
Also, don’t bring a bag of newspaper ads for black Friday and spend most of your visit sifting through them while ignoring everyone else in the room. Don’t glue your fingers and face to your smart phone, texting or playing games or surfing either. I’ve always thought it slightly weird when couples text each other from the next room! Don’t work on your homework or your work work or your novel while visiting. Just Be There all the way.
Don’t worry about offering to help
After all Mom’s have been entertaining at holiday time for years, right? Oh, and don’t bother to offer to bring any food either, they can afford it!
I know that some cooks don’t like others in the kitchen, but when your hostess or host is trying to prepare a turkey or large main dish with many sides for scores of people, they will need last minute help pulling it off – no matter how much they plan. So get up off that couch and help.
Tell his Mom that you will be bringing your grown daughter, then show up without her.
Holiday meals tend to be large and planned to the number of people expected. Don’t inflate the numbers and fail to show. If a last minute emergency does arise, at least have the decency to explain and apologize.
Tell her Mom that you will be eating at both family dinners, then just leave when she is ready to put the food on the table.
Why would anyone do this? Unless someone has made a trip to the emergency room and you need to be there, sit down and eat the dinner you said you would – or at least stay for the first 20 minutes!
Don’t tell either Mom that you are eating at the other’s house, then eat two full Thanksgiving dinners.
Although this solution does make both sets of parent’s happy, you will be totally miserable. The second Mom will probably wonder what is wrong with her food, since you will be hard pressed to force it down, after having filled up at the first house!
Do it right.
Decide on your own new traditions.
Figure out what you and your spouse and children want to do. Preserve some family traditions from both sides and add your own new ones. Discuss it together. Discuss it now and over time as your holiday traditions may evolve when your family changes (i.e. when you have kids).
Fit extended family visits to your new traditions.
Once you decide how your family unit wants to spend the holidays, weave extended family visits into and through your schedule. Maybe you want to host Thanksgiving and invite both sets of parents. Perhaps you want the kids to spend Christmas at home and offer to visit each set of parents on a different day with the kids.
Make both extended families feel loved.
Even if you aren’t spending the exact holiday with one side, make sure the other side feels appreciated and make sure you arrange time spent with them as well – at another time.
Perhaps there is a special event planned on one side of the family that merits you changing your schedule; a potential last holiday for an elder; a first Christmas for baby; or siblings coming in from out of town for a family reunion that should not be missed.
Bring food or drink. Offer to help serve or clean up. Be there when you are there, instead of chatting or texting or gaming on your phone.
Set expectations ahead of the holiday so parents and relatives on both sides aren’t surprised at last minute decisions or actions. Let relatives know the rationale behind your scheduling decisions. Be understanding when relatives express disappointment at not ‘getting’ you for the holiday, and reiterate your love and offer of visiting on another day.
What horror stories do you have about splitting time between families at holiday time?