Combining families may be one of the hardest things to negotiate as newlyweds. Five years into my marriage and one child later, I still have not mastered this trade. And at no time is it more apparent or more upsetting then around the holidays. I grew up in a family where Christmas was a happy, joyous occasion. I love Christmas in a paganistic, Hallmark sort of way. I have more Christmas decorations than any “modern woman” can proudly admit to. I listen to Christmas music non-stop from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. So why is it that when it comes to deciding where we are spending the holidays, my stomach ties up in knots? I just want to crawl into bed and sleep through the entire season.
My husband’s parents are divorced and my mother-in-law lets it be known that she wants no part of her ex-husband around the holidays. Seems reasonable enough, but my husband insists that our whole family spend the holidays together. Two weeks before Christmas last year, my mother-in-law announced that in lieu of attending our Christmas Eve party, planned months in advance, she was going to have her family over the week before. Mind you, her family makes up most of our Christmas Eve guest list, so this all but ruined our Christmas Eve plans. Furious, I sent my husband in to make things right. Her response to my hurt feelings: “Is it so selfish for me to want to have Christmas with MY family?” No, except that YOUR family is not OUR family, and we want to spend Christmas with our family. Therein lies the problem.
So, what happened? My mother-in-law had a “private” Christmas for just her family (read: everyone but my parents and father-in-law). At my husband’s insistence—I’m more of a keep-the-peace kind of person—we boycotted the “private” event. Much to everyone’s credit, his family still showed up to our Christmas Eve party. Granted, there was no big Christmas exchange since most of the family had exchanged gifts the week before. But after a few glasses of eggnog and hot cider spiked with rum, I could have cared less.
That is until my childless sister-in-law stormed out of the room calling behind her, “I don’t like crybabies.” The cause of all the fuss, my two-year-old had fallen into the coffee table and was crying for me. Rather than simply handing my child off to me, my sister-in-law threw her own temper tantrum more fit for a five-year-old than a thirty-year-old. To make matters worse, my two-year-old looked up at me with crocodile tears still streaming down her face and said “Am I a crybaby, Mommy?” I did not sign up for this when I marched down the isle five years ago!
So what are we doing this year? We’re spending Christmas (and Thanksgiving) at my sister-in-law’s, which she announced to us all in a one-line email mid-October. I sent my parents on vacation for Thanksgiving (I’m an only child). And I’m hoping my sister-in-law will be gracious enough to include my parents for Christmas. Why am I letting my sister-in-law usurp the entire holiday season this year? Because this year I am doing exactly what my in-laws want. And if Christmas is still miserable, then we are doing our own thing from here on out guilt free. I hear Europe is nice at Christmas!