That loud whooshing sound racing up from behind you is the holiday season arriving once again. While always a magical time, full of anticipation and good cheer, it can also be a time full of must-do’s and orchestrated appearances at traditional family rituals. Now multiply all of that by 2 as you and your spouse are expected to be a part of two extended families in addition to work obligations and friends’ events. Add some travel time for out-of-town destinations and the “spirit of the season” may turn dark indeed.
This is not my first relationship rodeo. I have had — “the good fortune” — to have a variety of experiences from which to create my top three holiday tradition setting & attendance recommendations.
- Agree on ground rules — make all decisions jointly and never put the other person on-the-spot by asking him/her to decide in “real-time” in front of family members whether or not to do something or go somewhere. Never. Pull no punches and recognize that compromise is required, even though “you’ve always made cookies on the same weekend with your dad’s side of the family”.
- Take control or risk being controlled — announce early-on (target end of summer, but it is never too early) to all family members that you two want to be able to spend time with loved ones from both families as well as have the opportunity to begin new traditions of your own. Adding Thanksgiving to any negotiated settlement is a great option when families live in different states and visiting with everyone during one holiday is not practical. Often the agreement is as simple as alternating families each year – last year’s Thanksgiving location is this year’s Christmas/Chanukkah destination.
If you already have a pattern established, don’t assume that what worked before will work for everyone forever. By checking in with everyone periodically you open up the possibility of a new arrangement that might be fun — like a destination holiday event that combines both families.
Also, do not allow the strength of the objection to influence your decision. As we say to our 10 year old [actually we mostly say it to ourselves…] “we do not reward bad behavior!” Don’t give in to the family member who thinks that relentlessly revisiting the issue will change your answer.
- Incorporate a tradition or two of your own — each of you adding something special from your childhood and explaining its significance can be a way to begin your own family’s traditions. For me, it is watching the original Peanuts Charlie Brown Christmas followed by Dr. Suess’ The Grinch as voiced by Boris Karloff. The holiday’s have not arrived for me until I’ve seen The Grinch’s dog, Max leap through the air thinking he’s going to get to go for a ride on that sleigh, or listened to Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Charlie Brown soundtrack – over and over and over and over. These re-connect me to my childhood. I smile at the memories and feel grateful for the life I have.
Learning about each other’s traditions is a great way of getting to know your spouse’s family. Traditions can be big and involved or silly and simple. They help define who we are, and can influence what we become. Building these new foundations for your new family can be difficult and challenging, but they are so worth it.