Whether you are playing “the hostess with the mostest” this year, or traveling to your in-laws home for the holidays, there are bound to be opportunities for disagreements. So, David and Claudia Arp, co-authors of Loving Your Relatives—Even When You Don’t See Eye-to-Eye (Focus on the Family/Tyndale 2003) and co-founders of Marriage Alive International, have put together a few tips that will help you head off the trouble before it begins.
If you are hosting the Christmas extended family get together:
When grandparents come to your house for Christmas, help them feel included.
Adopt some of your parents’ favorite traditions at least for the times you are together.
- Be flexible!
- Have some extra gifts on hand.
If you are the guest in your in-laws home:
- Participate enthusiastically in the activities they have planned.
- Offer to help. For instance, no matter where the Arps are for Christmas, Claudia always makes her famous cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning.
Deck the Halls with Lots of Patience
By Michelle Medlock Adams
CBN.com Although we get to choose our friends, we don’t get to choose our family or extended family. Thus, you’re probably not going to like everyone in your family or your spouse’s family. And, that tends to be a problem—especially during the holidays when you’re forced to spend a lot of time with those people.
“This is a very common problem,” shares Claudia and David Arp, co-founders of Marriage Alive International and co-authors of Loving Your Relatives—Even When You Don’t See Eye-to-Eye. “We conducted a national extended family survey and discovered that everyone has a strained relationship somewhere in the family tree, and often it’s with an in-law. Everyone is part of an extended family, and most everyone will readily admit to some tension somewhere in their extended family tree.”
Tense family get-togethers and strained relationships can make the 12 days of Christmas seem like 12 years! So, rather than dread the holidays this year, learn to enjoy those family times—even if your mother-in-law just commented on how much weight you’ve gained since last year. Ugh!
Following are five common scenarios that play out in many homes during the holidays, and here are some ways to combat these problems before they rear their ugly little heads.
The Monster-in-law Scenario
Hilarious TV sitcoms have been built around the classic mother-in-law/daughter-in-law strained relationship. Remember “The Jeffersons?” (You know, the one with George and Weesie and Lionel and the “We’re moving on up” theme song…) Weesie and George’s mother, Mrs. Jefferson, had one of those difficult relationships. Mrs. Jefferson hurled insults at Weesie in almost every episode, and it was funny. However, in real life, those hurtful insults aren’t so funny.
If you’re struggling with a “monster-in-law,” the Arps want you to know you’re not alone. It’s very common. Instead of worrying over another Christmas filled with insults and hurts, why not be proactive? The Arps offer these tips:
- Compliment your in-law in the presence of others.
- Make a list of your in-law’s positive qualities.
- List the ways you are different that give variety to your family tree.
- Affirm the growing edges you see. Is your in-law attempting something new? Is he or she taking a risk to grow in an area— maybe learning a new sport, trying low-fat cooking, or working out? Is he or she bravely switching jobs or professions to something better suited and more fulfilling? Then give some affirmation.
In addition, the Arps suggest you go the extra mile—all year long—not just during the holidays. They advise:
- Call just to say hello -- have no agenda and keep the phone call short.
- Take the initiative to apologize and to forgive your mother/father-in-law if needed.
- Write a letter and mention those things you appreciate about her/him.
- Avoid all forms of manipulation.
- Try to see things from your in-law’s perspective.
- Do what you can to facilitate a positive relationship but don't assume responsibility for her/his happiness.
The Holiday Marathon Scenario
Ready. Set. Go! And, you’re off. First, you do Christmas morning with the in-laws. Then you race over to your parents’ house for Christmas brunch and present opening. Next, you run over to your favorite aunt’s house for Christmas dinner, and so on, and so on. By December 26, you are exhausted and Christmas is a total blur.
Not for Patricia and Randy Marshall and their three children.
“From the very beginning, Randy and I agreed that Christmas morning was our time,” she explains. “We dedicate Christmas morning and most of the day to our immediate family and stay at our house. We get up early, stay in our pjs, open presents from each other, eat a good breakfast and laze around with each other until early evening. Christmas Day is very much an intimate family time.
“I’ve been called selfish and self-centered for doing this but I believe it’s made for less stress and some very special memories for my kids. Then, in the late evening we head over to my mother-in-law’s for gift giving.”
According to Dr. Daphne Stevens, LCSW, the Marshall family’s approach isn’t selfish, it’s very healthy.
“Consider making a family policy: Say, ‘We'll visit your family this Christmas and mine the next.’ Alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas this way. Or, even more sanity-saving, make a general announcement that, while your children are young and you want to do ‘the Santa thing’ in your own home, you will not be traveling at Christmas at all.”
Dr. Stevens suggests inviting your in-laws and your family to a New Year’s brunch where you can exchange gifts. And, with multiple sets of parents (like step-parent situations), simply space out the holiday visits between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the 48-hour period between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is the only ‘magic’ time,” says Dr. Stevens. “You have the whole season to do this. And, many families discover over time that they enjoy a special time to gather together (eg: some families celebrate Christmas on Thanksgiving Day or New Years every year, avoiding the rush or taking advantage of the sales. It makes it a much more relaxed time.”
Big Spender Scenario
Maybe growing up, your family drew names at Christmas. That way, each family member was only responsible for purchasing one gift. This is an especially common practice with larger families, or those families who do “Christmas on a budget,” avoiding the credit card trap. But, what happens when you marry into “the Rockefellers,” who buy elaborate gifts for every person in the family? This can cause a problem between husband and wife because each spouse has grown up with different ideals when it comes to gift giving.
The Marshalls have learned to navigate their different gift-giving styles with a “compromise.”
“Randy’s paternal extended side of the family has a big Christmas Eve in which all the aunts and uncles give presents to everyone,” Patricia explains. “We give a small gift to each of the aunts and uncles, but not the cousins. It makes for a lot of fun without the expense.”
Dr. Stevens suggests setting a budget with your spouse ahead of time. And, if money is tight, come up with some homemade gifts.
“Bake a batch of your wonderful cookies and distribute them in small but lovely packaging for each relative.”
The Family Feud Scenario
With family holiday bashes come a few Christmas clashes. It’s almost unavoidable when you think about it. We put a bunch of family members under one roof, people who haven’t seen each other since last year’s fiasco, and we ask them to “play nice” even though they’ve been feuding for decades.
Whether it’s an in-law squabble, an ongoing sibling face-off, or a stepchild situation—these holiday fights can turn any gathering into a disaster. To avoid another holiday brawl, send some of the squabbling family members to the Marriott!
Dr. Stevens advises limiting the amount of time that “the whole family” is together. In other words, too much togetherness might be a breeding ground for feuding, so get hotel rooms for visiting relatives. That way, when all of the relatives gather together for the actual Christmas celebration, they’ll be well-rested and less likely to attack.
James and Karen Underwood, who are still newlyweds, decided they wouldn’t ruin their first Christmas together by going to either family’s homes for Christmas. Instead, they celebrated this blessed time of year at their home, with their four children from previous marriages.
“We don’t go to either place for Christmas,” Karen, who works as a research coordinator for a ministry in Texas, shares. “We decided that if they wanted to see us, they could come to our house.”
“Our family is different from most, because our extended family doesn’t accept us for who we are so we just don’t go around them,” shares Karen, noting that their Christian faith is a source of aggravation for her husband’s family.
Knowing they’d be met with ridicule and ugliness, the Underwoods have opted to protect and preserve their immediate family’s celebration of the season. Karen adds that they came to this decision through much prayer, advising that others in feuding families should also pray for direction.
For more information about avoiding family feuds during the holidays, go to http://scsc.essortment.com/relationshipsfa_rfma.htm online.
“Big Fat Greek Family” Scenario
If you’ve seen the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know that only children and children from big families sometimes have obstacles to overcome when they get married. If you grew up with small family holiday gatherings, but you married a person who has 27 first cousins—it may be a shock to your system when the “whole bunch” celebrates together. If you find yourself in a room full of loud, talkative relatives from your spouse’s family, and the walls seem to be closing in around you, you might need a break.
The Arps suggest you find ways to escape the craziness in order to preserve your sanity.
- Take a warm bath. Warm water calms you by increasing circulation and relaxing muscles.
- Breathe deeply. When anxiety strikes, the heart races; breathing deeply will help you relax.
- Build a fire, turn on soft music, and have a cup of hot chocolate or tea.
- Have a quiet time. Read your favorite passage of Scripture or read Psalm 23.
- Keep your sense of humor.
- Write in a journal. Sometimes summing up the day’s highs and lows will help you laugh at them and keep things in perspective. ( Taken from “Loving Your Relatives—Even When You Don’t See Eye-to-Eye” by David and Claudia Arp and John and Margaret Bell, Focus on the Family/Tyndale 2003 Available at www.marriagealive.com online.)
Then, when you’re rejuvenated, rejoin the loud boisterous group and enjoy every chaotic Christmas moment. Who knows? You might find that large family gatherings have a charm all their own.
The Perfect Christmas Scenario
As you face another holiday season, embrace it with joy. Remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. Let Him fill your heart with peace and love. Ask Him to show you ways to make each family gathering a success. Proverbs 4:5 says, “Get wisdom, get understanding…” God has all of the answers, and He is more than willing to share them with you. Make sure that you take time to meditate on His Word during this busy time of year. He will help you walk in love—even if your aunt Agnes insists your fruitcake gave her food poisoning last year. Keep smiling. The joy of the Lord is in you, and it can’t be uprooted by anything—even Aunt Agnes.
More from CBN.com's Christmas Celebration
Michelle Medlock Adams is an award-winning journalist, earning top honors from the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Hoosier State Press Association. Author of 32 books, Michelle has also written thousands of articles for newspapers and magazines since graduating with a journalism degree from Indiana University. Her picture book, Conversations On the Ark earned her the "Barnes & Noble Author of the Month" honor in May 2003. In 2006, her books: What is Easter?, Why I Praise You, God,Why I Trust You, God, , "Why I Thank You, God, , "What Is Christmas?, and Divine Stories of the Yahweh Sisterhood (which she co-authored with Gena Maselli) debuted. When not speaking at writers’ conferences, churches and women’s retreats around the country, Michelle spends time with her husband, Jeff, their two tweenage daughters, Abby and Ally, and their three miniature dachshunds, Maddie, Miller and Molly Mae in Bedford, Indiana. Please visit her at www.michellemedlockadams.com.
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