Your Family or Mine? 6 Keys to Planning How to Spend the Holidays with In-Laws
Our family is now well into our second year as in-laws. Sure, a lot of things change when your children grow up, get married and move away. But I think one of the hardest changes to navigate from the parental side has been sharing our kids and their spouses with the other in-laws for the holidays. We’re learning first-hand what it means to experience a “new normal.”
Once we married, my husband and I always lived quite a distance from both our families, so we found it rather easy to divvy up the holidays between them: Thanksgiving at one home, Christmas at the other. We also frequently counsel with newlywed couples as they deal with this issue for themselves. So you’d think this topic would be a piece of cake for us. Hmm, not so easy.
With our own kids’ spouses and extended families to share them with, we’ve found it best to put ourselves in our kids’ shoes and try to see it from their perspective. In order to do this, we’ve had go back and revisit our own advice we give to young couples as they establish their new life together. Doing this has really helped us to navigate it better with our own kids.
Here are our 6 keys to planning how to spend the holidays with family:
1. Talk about your hopes and expectations. Find time with your spouse to discuss how each of you feels about holidays and how the time is to be spent. Include major holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other occasions that are special to you. What were they like growing up in your family? What did you like or dislike, and what would you change if you could? This is a great chance to listen and find out about each other’s hearts, deep dreams and hopes.
2. Remember that your spouse comes first. The best marriages take each partner’s needs into consideration. By putting your spouse first, you are choosing the role of being a husband or wife over the role of being a child in your parent’s family. God designed marriages to bring couples together (leave and cleave.) Leaving starts by making your spouse (and your young children) your first priority—mom, dad and in-laws are still valued and loved, but not over your spouse.
3. Agree as a couple how to establish your own holiday traditions. Work for balance and fairness. For example, you might decide to spend Christmas Eve with your parents and Christmas Day with your spouse's (if both live nearby). Every other year you might choose to spend the whole holiday at home as a couple—or as a family if you have children.
4. Establish ground rules in advance - Talk to your spouse and agree on how long you'll be staying and any topics or family issues that you would rather not discuss during your visit. Don't forget to let your family know in advance when you plan to arrive and leave.
5. The goal is to honor your spouse and your family. Try to be as fair as possible and open to the desires of family members—but not controlled by them. Remember—whatever you do in the early stages of your marriage establishes precedence and future expectations for your extended family.
6. Be flexible. This year’s plan may not be the way you always do it. There could be a different, better plan next year, so no one has to get upset that they’ve “lost” their holiday traditions permanently.
The bottom line is this: Everyone needs to be flexible about holiday traditions. You may not be able to celebrate it exactly as you always have; in fact, you probably won’t! The new marriage means there’s now a third party to consider.
Perhaps you all celebrate the holiday on the actual day. Or maybe you celebrate it a day or two after. This year for Thanksgiving our family will eat dinner and play games together on Saturday instead of Thursday, and I’m happy about it!
Yes, it would be nice to have us all together on Thanksgiving Day. But when you get down to it, the date itself is not the main thing. The main goal is to enjoy spending important time together as a family – and who cares what day it is as long as we get that?
Alisa Grace ('92) serves as the co-director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships where she also co-teaches a class called "Christian Perspectives on Marriage and Relationships." While she speaks and blogs regularly on topics such as dating relationships, marriage, and love, she also loves mentoring younger women and newly married couples, speaking at retreats and providing premarital counseling. Alisa and her husband, Chris, have been married over 30 years and have three wonderful children: Drew and his wife Julia, Natalie and her husband Neil, and their youngest blessing, Caroline.