"What can we do if we want different things?"
When you think of the holidays, images of family gatherings and shared meals typically come to mind. Heck, the Hallmark channel devotes 2 full months to the concept of a happy holiday season! (No pressure though, right?!) Let's be honest, as much as you may want to have the "perfect" holiday experience it rarely happens perfectly! In fact, this time of year can bring an added amount of stress and strain to your relationship.
What's behind the conflict? Couples who are in conflict about the holidays are doing one of two things: 1. Protecting their childhood memories 2. Protecting their side of the family Let's look at the first point: Childhood Memories When adults think about the holidays, they think about the things that made the holiday special within their family. For some, it might be the tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve and leaving the rest for the next morning. For others it could be traveling to see relatives to visit. I'll never forget our first Christmas with our firstborn. In preparation for Santa's visit, I eagerly wrapped certain gifts in special "Santa" paper and others in "From Mom and Dad" paper. My husband asked about the different paper, and I responded, "Those are from Santa, the others are from us." He looked confused. Admittedly, I was too! Why was he asking me such an odd question? It turns out Santa did not wrap the gifts he left under the tree at my mother-in-law's house when he and my sister were kids. When Santa left presents at my childhood home, they were wrapped and each had a handwritten tag with each of our names on them. In case you're wondering, we decided Santa would leave wrapped presents here because it's so much fun to rip open the wrapping paper to discover the special gift inside. Changing things up within your own family may feel "wrong" or "sad" and you need to respect those feelings. It is asking someone to give up something that meant so much to them. Okay, Point #2- Protecting Your Side of the Family- can really cause some arguments! When you are trying to find a balance between "your way" and "my way" emotions can run high. When it comes to extended family, these discussions may touch on subjects that are very near and dear to your hearts. One important thing my mom reminded me of was that my husband and I now had our own family and needed to do what was best for our little branch of the family tree. This also meant not everything could be "my way" or I'm not respecting his family. Part of that meant I had to give up a few things along the way. Growing up in an Italian/Croatian family, we celebrated with everyone gathering, eating dinner together, and exchanging presents on Christmas Eve. Christmas day was spent visiting various relatives at their homes throughout the day. My husband's family's celebration was Christmas Day, so that helped for our immediate families, but then I had to give up visiting with aunts, uncles, and cousins to do Christmas day with them. It took some time to get used to, but it soon became "how we do" the holidays. If your partner's family always took a big trip for the holidays and your family always stayed home, perhaps you can alternate years. This also gives you a trip to look forward to every other year. Not a bad idea! What about stepfamilies? The blended family dynamic adds some complications to the mix. You now have you, your spouse, your ex, and possibly their spouse all with ideas of how to handle the holidays. (Many of you may have your holidays dictated by the courts through a custody agreement. If so, then part of the decision-making has been done for you.) Many co-parents work together regarding presents so the kids aren't overloaded with "stuff" just to have things to open. Some even co-purchase bigger items, which helps financially for some couples. Others have very separate experiences and that is what works for them to avoid more conflict. Remember not to overstep your boundaries with holiday traditions. If you know the kids love to bake cookies with their other parent and it's a special tradition for them, then don't try to take that as well. Instead, you could create new traditions like going to a local holiday light show or building gingerbread houses. Don't be surprised if your stepkids don't immediately cling to new traditions. Many are trying to figure out how to embrace this new version of the holidays with a new living situation and with a new stepparent/stepsiblings to who they aren't necessarily emotionally attached to. Give it time and lots of patience. Ask them if there's something they would like to create as your blended family's holiday tradition! As with all parenting decisions, if you go into this with the intention of solving a problem while also respecting everyone's feelings you can find some common ground and work things out. Intentional parenting is the key to success! One last thought: Space and Grace are also important. Give your partner space to share his or her feelings and be graceful in your response. If you found these tips helpful, join the Dare to Parent newsletter. Click here to begin receiving weekly tips and strategies!