Holidays used to be so simple. I spent every Christmas being chauffeured around in the back of a dolphin blue Dodge minivan from my grandma’s house in Montgomery to our next stop at my grandparents’ home in Atlanta. The only worry I had in the world was whether Santa was going to deliver the Strawberry Shortcake Roller Skates I had requested. I was oblivious to the behind-the-scenes strategic planning these family visits took. Now that I am a wife, mother, daughter, and daughter-in-law, there are a whole lot of people I must consider before planning our holiday visits. I have two families that both have a claim to two now-adult children. I must carefully orchestrate plans to ensure that there are no hurt feelings, no one is left out, there is a sense of equality, and all family members remain happy little elves.
When you get married, you immediately become part of a new family, and with that comes expectations of you taking part in their longstanding holiday traditions. But what happens when those traditions and events fall in direct conflict with your own family’s festivities?? Obviously, those first few years are a tricky balance. And kids make it even more complicated because everybody wants a piece of the grandkids on the holidays. For example, take my current situation . . . after my remarriage, I am now the center of a huge blended family, so I have FOUR families’ schedules and expectations to juggle! Who gets the kids Christmas morning? At which grandparents’ house will we spend Christmas Eve? And seriously, how many Thanksgiving dinners can one really eat? It can feel overwhelming when your child asks, “Mommy, where are we spending the holidays?” However, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that your holiday plans run smoothly with both families in mind.
Being upfront with parents, in-laws, and siblings about upcoming holiday plans far in advance can help keep the peace. Being vague or brushing off invitations until the last minute will just lead to hurt feelings and animosity in the future. Nobody wants a ticked off mother-in-law who expected all year to have you at her home for Thanksgiving dinner, only to learn at the last minute that you are taking the kids skiing with your family. (Disclaimer: I truly have the coolest mother-in-law in the world who has never been anything but flexible and supportive.)
Life is unpredictable. What is a sure thing this year can turn on a dime the next. Maybe your travel budget is a little meager this year after husband received an unexpected Clark Griswold-type Christmas “bonus,” so now the funds aren’t there to fly cross-country to visit Grandma. Hey, there’s always spring break. You must be willing to accept that things will inevitably change, and hopefully, those closest to you will rally around and support you during hard times. Last year, we lost my father-in-law very unexpectedly. My mother-in-law did not want to go through the motions of their usual family tradition of dinner at her house, so at the last minute, we decided to have Christmas dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant, The Red Pearl. I loved it! No slaving over a hot stove or dishes to clean. After dinner, we went to my brother-in-law’s house and had wine, dessert, and opened presents. It was an absolutely perfect unplanned evening. A new non-tradition was born.
It was basically set in stone that we opened Santa Claus at my parent’s house, and that tradition remained unchanged for all my 30+ years on earth. Then circumstances changed. After my sister had her third child, it started becoming very difficult to transport Santa’s entire sleigh the hour-plus drive to my parents’. In recent years, my parents have started making the trip to my sister’s home to watch the babies open Christmas. Now you say, what about me and my boys? Well, here comes the point about compromise. I’m sure if I pushed the issue, my parents would gladly switch years between their two girls, but for now, this is working out well for our family. I get plenty of visits and babysitting services from my parents throughout the year, and Christmas Day can be spent with my husband’s family without guilt.
For some families, flipping holidays seems like the fairest compromise when family traditions are set in stone and no one seems to want to budge. Thanksgiving with mine. Christmas with yours. Then do a switch-a-roo the following year. Basically, like a custody arrangement for families. Everybody knows what to expect, and plans become routine.
Establish your own traditions.
As much as I treasure my extended family during the holidays, a part of me wants to create memories and traditions for my own little family. For example, as simple as it sounds, I have created a small tradition for us. I order bagels and all the trimmings from Zabar’s in New York City and have them shipped for Christmas morning breakfast. It’s just a touch of something different and special which takes minimal effort on my part. Coupled with a mimosa bar (hot cocoa for the kiddies), and we now have one of my new favorite Christmas traditions.
Since establishing a home of my own, I want a chance to host our family for holiday gatherings. I want everyone to “ooh” and “ahh” over my famous squash casserole and the three uniquely themed Christmas trees I so painstakingly decorated. I want an excuse to bust out the fine china and fancy wine glasses (i.e. the ones with the stems that aren’t plastic). I plan on combing through thousands of Pinterest recipes to devise the perfect menu and cue my inner Martha Stewart. I’d like my boys to start making memories of holidays spent in their own home. That is why I am hosting my very first family Christmas dinner this year and EVERYONE is included.
I will always hold close to my heart my childhood Thanksgivings spent at my grandma’s little country house filled with love and her amazing Southern cooking. I still chuckle at the memory of those newlywed years when Sister and I had the running gag every Christmas of gifting the other’s husband with the worst present imaginable. And Christmas Eve never seems quite complete without my little sister reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to our babies . . . after a few glasses of wine. These are just a few of the hundreds of memories I have of holidays spent with my family. So now no matter where I am or who I’m with during the holidays, these are the memories that I cherish the most. But I look forward to creating brand new traditions and memories in the years to come with my new family.