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Surviving the Holidays – When your in-laws are as crazy as your parents

My wife and I met a couple the other day that isn’t panicking about where to spend their Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are in the minority. We are approaching Thanksgiving and it isn’t easy to decide what to do.

Many couples approach the holiday season with a nervousness knowing feelings will be hurt and good intentions won’t be enough. Some try to make the best of the holidays by trying to be everywhere or have a nagging guilt about not being everywhere.

Some couples really work hard to make every possible combination of the fractured family happy. Thanksgiving brunch at his moms, early lunch at her dad’s house followed by dinner at his dad’s house followed a shopping and late thanksgiving at her mom’s house. Stop watches are running to make sure each person get equal grandchild time but no one leaves satisfied.Family-Dinner-300x270

I know I’m exaggerating a bit but balancing the holidays can be a challenge, even for the sanest of families. Like it or not, it’s something that can cause irritation or even wounds. It gets even harder with grandchildren as grandparents compete with other grandparents. Complicate it even more by many of us live multiple states apart from family.

The holiday season isn’t just a time to try to keep peace with your extended family. It’s a time to create your own family traditions. As a couple, establishing your own traditions may further alienate you from family.

So, is this just an insane reality to our life or is there something we can do to make it easier.

This is a boundary challenge. It focuses on what we can control, what we don’t have control over and also those relationships and things we need to protect ourselves from. It requires us to accept our limitations. For many it also requires us to protect our family from family negativity. Boundaries are a concept that John Townsend and Henry Cloud have been writing and speaking about since 1992.  Boundaries are something that need to be established, thoughtfully created by a couple and further developed by a family. People without boundaries can be walked all over and tend to get into a victim mentality. Setting boundaries helps protect your family but also can be really helpful for other people. They know where you stand and can interact with you without wondering whether they are overstepping. For these reasons it is really important for couples to sit down together and establish those boundaries and then as a unified couple, share those boundaries with the extended family.

Communication is is one of the most important areas to focus on in navigating the holidays. Here are several suggestions:

  • Communicate well ahead of time. Talk before your parents and her parents are sending you plane tickets or setting their plans.
  • Communicate your goals for the holiday. Talk about what sort of experience you want your kids to have, what you want them to remember about the holidays when they are adults.
  • Be unified as a couple. Communicate your plans as a unit and be careful not to throw your spouse under the bus just because you are scared of offending your parents. She doesn’t say things like, “I really do want to come for Thanksgiving but Tim and his mom are so co-dependent that they can’t be apart for the holidays.” He can’t say things like, “Susan turns into a little kid when she is at home and would fall apart if she wasn’t home for Christmas”
  • Ask your extended family what their preferences are. Simply say, “We really are looking forward to family time over the holidays but realize we can’t be everywhere at the same time. If everything would be ideal, how would you like to see us spend the holiday? Do you have any suggestions for how we can balance all our different needs during the holidays?
  • Be honest about your limitations whether they are financial, the amount of time your kids can handle in the car or the amount of food you can eat.

Here are some ways other couples have structured their holidays.

  • Alternate and Rotate – Spend Thanksgiving with one set, Christmas with another and New year at home. Rotate positions each year. Due to complication from divorce some families rotate who comes over for Christmas morning, another set of parents for Christmas dinner. It can be tricky but a rotation at least demonstrates trying and fairness.
  • Invite everyone to your house. Yes, this may be crazy but at least you don’t have to travel.
  • Find neutral ground – invite families to a beach house, go skiing, take a cruise. Do something in which everyone is invited but no one owns the space.

Don’t just let the holidays happen to you, make a plan, communicate well, remain flexible and most of all, don’t let the holidays mayhem rob your family of closeness and time to appreciate one another.

Question, how do you structure your holidays to maximize family time and still remain sane?

Resources:

Focus on the Family http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/communication_and_conflict/inlaw_relationships/holidays_and_the_inlaws.aspx

Balancing Blended Families During the Holidays – http://www.twoofus.org/educational-content/articles/balancing-blended-families-during-the-holidays/index.aspx