Getting married is a lot about creating a new family with your spouse. A lot, but not all. It’s also about joining one (or more) existing families; families with unique history and traditions and cultures. Becoming part of a new family can be a great gift, but there are bound to be some growing pains. Both the joys and struggles of that process are highlighted around the holidays.
A few weeks ago, Melody shared how she wants to enable her children to feel the joy of the holidays, even if it means letting go of some of their old family traditions. I also asked my friend Kara for her perspective on the matter. Kara is married with two young children. At this stage in her life, she and her husband Mark want to establish some of their own holiday traditions, but they sometimes run into trouble with the in-laws on both sides. Kara and Mark love and respect their extended families; they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but they do want a chance to establish their own “holiday style.”
With that in mind, here are three ideas Kara shared about how she and her husband are approaching the holidays this year:
- Talk about it before hand – Even if we’re at the other one’s family for the holiday, what needs to happen for the other one to feel like it’s a real holiday? For example, what needs to be on the table for Thanksgiving dinner for it to really be Thanksgiving? In my family, the traditional pies were pumpkin, mincemeat, and apple. That’s what was on the table this year when we celebrated with my family. But it turns out blueberry was the standard Thanksgiving pie in my husband’s family. It’s a small thing to do to make a blueberry pie, but it makes Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving for him. Discuss things like when you go to church (midnight Mass? Christmas morning?), what meals you make, when you exchange gifts, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to set boundaries, and set them early – We like to be with our extended family. But to have space to establish our own family traditions, we need to have time to ourselves. This year we’re drawing some lines around our nuclear family time and our extended family time, and we’re telling our family about it in advance. This way – they can plan, and we know we have some protected time alone.
- Look for ways to compromise – be honest with your family when something matters to you, but also recognize when something doesn’t matter to you. If you don’t care what time presents are opened, give in to the family that likes to open them after breakfast, even if you’ve always done it before breakfast (or at 6am, like my family growing up). That way, you’re really only asking them to compromise when something is important enough to you (like burning a Yule log every year).
A little communication can go a long way towards making everyone feel like their opinions are important.
Are you experiencing “family growing pains” of your own? What’s your approach to family traditions?