The season is upon us. Wrapping up Turkey Day means that the holiday shuffle has officially arrived. We're about to tackle lots of visits from friends and family members we barely see, and even the dreaded—wait for it—IN-LAWS. Personally, I'd love for the holidays to be warm, happy celebrations where we all get along splendidly and nothing ever goes wrong. Instead, I sometimes feel like the Griswolds on steroids.
I've recently come to believe that every family has its own brand of crazy, and it comes in all different styles—new-to-you styles. What I didn't realize when I decided to get married was that I wasn't just marrying one person. I was marrying her entire family, as well. I was committing to countless family gatherings. I started spending time with my in-laws, the people who raised my wife, and realized that they have had a huge influence on who she has become. And I had to respect that. So do you.
As the holiday season speeds up, let's think about how to navigate each gatherings with your spouse... while also making every effort to have a great times with the in-laws.
Tip #1: Always communicate. There are certain times when we need to communicate clearly with our spouses during the holidays: Before you get to the holiday party (or everyone arrives at your place), during the festive gathering, and after you leave. Before going, talk about the upcoming event. What will you or won't you be talking about? How will you act around crazy Uncle Bob who likes to get sloshed and ask inappropriate questions? Remind one another that you're husband and wife first. Parents second. Siblings and kids last. You need to prioritize your marriage and family over extended family, so decide that from the start. For instance, if you know your child needs a nap in the afternoon to ensure that he won't get overtired and cranky, that needs to be the priority. Establish the expectation when the party or event begins, and then honor that priority. Yes, it will be uncomfortable, especially if you haven't done it before. But you're a married person with a family now. It has to be done.
On the back side of your visit, have a recap conversation. What worked? What didn't work? What did we learn this holiday visit? Socrates said that the unexamined life isn't worth living. That's so true, especially if you have to live the same hellish holidays over and over. My wife and I just realized that three things happen nearly every year when we get together with our in-laws: 1. Someone has some sort of car trouble. 2. A family member gets upset. 3. When even more extended family comes to visit, those visits take longer than we expect. So, on our car ride home post-Thanksgiving, we talked about each of these situations, and decided how we would deal with them in the future—together. It was a necessary conversation. Our visit had just happened and we were able to think about how to handle the issues in the future while they were still fresh.
Tip #2: Be flexible. Families do things differently. Accept that.
In my family, we gather the whole big clan in a small family room. Someone distributes trash bags to each family member for discarded wrapping paper. Another yells, "Go!" Then, we tear into the presents. It takes approximately 10 minutes to finish the gift-giving ceremony. And this is totally different than how my wife's family handles things. They all sit down, slowly distribute gifts one at time, and then watch everyone open presents individually.
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