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The First Holiday Negotiating In-Law (or Almost-In-Law) Needs and Wants

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Edith: Hi Jane! I know that you’ve found love, which is wonderful and I am very happy for you. Hmm, that was sort of supposed to sound like a joke, I guess, except I am happy, and it is wonderful. Anyway, how has it been blending families? Dating someone –> dating that person exclusively –> meeting that person’s family? –> cohabiting with that person –> marriage –> still cohabitation, but now you have to share holidays, since you’re now a unit.

What were those first conversations like? Because it’s all still so potentially fragile.

Jane: We’ve had a pretty easy time of things, I think. For one, I come from a large family with a few splits and have had to navigate that for decades already, so I’ve got a lot of practice telling the people I love, “No, I won’t be at your Christmas Eve dinner. I’m sorry, but I still love you and would love to see you another night or holiday!” My husband, on the other hand, has a small family who are all quite close. It’s been hard for him to not be there for a few big holidays since we’ve been together, but luckily they are all so nice. They’re truly understanding and sweet about it. Like, they get it. Which brings me to my first Big Point concerning this subject: If your SO’s family are jerks about sharing time — knowing that YOU love YOUR family too, and that you love your chosen person and want to be with them on sentimental days — think really hard about if you want them to be part of your family … forever. I mean, look at how your lover handles the difficult people in these situations, you know? Your person should have your back and make you feel like #1. If you don’t feel that way, say something. Ideally, your partner will be willing to stand up to the jerks on your behalf and temporarily piss off some passive aggressive weirdos who have personal issues they’re taking out on you.

Edith: Do you split Thanksgiving and XMas/New Years stuff? (Wait, people don’t spend NYE with in-laws or family, do they?)

Jane: I think we unofficially rotate? For now. In talking to our parents about this, once they had kids, and recalling from my memory, they had holidays at their house. Think about it: How does a holiday end up happening at one person’s house rather than all the other candidates in the family? Well, time and deaths and marriages, that’s how. Change! Change is how anything happens, right? I hope, as someone who loves to host, to become one of the houses people migrate to for the holidays in the future. For now, we’re happy to bounce about.

Even our current plan is an evolution: For the first few years I was all about doing my own thing — I’d go off by myself and visit one of my best friends in Beirut for Thanksgiving, so that just left Christmas and we’d try to split a few days between his family out east and mine in the Midwest. If I had to recall where we were, exactly, on which exact days of the last few holidays, I couldn’t tell you. But we do make the rounds in some sort of fair-ish way: Christmas eve dinner at someone’s house, Christmas morning somewhere else, a few of the days in between Christmas and the New Year somewhere else entirely.

My dad used to do a big family thing for New Year’s Eve too, which was a lot of fun for many years and took the pressure off being home for Christmas day, but now he has two toddlers which puts the pressure ON for us to be there to watch them open presents! Just kidding, it’s not pressure, it’s the funnest thing about the holidays. Those little girls have made it much easier to choose where I want be that morning. But again, if my dude really wanted me at his family’s, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

Ah, and sorry to go on and on, but also also, my husband and I don’t really have a problem being apart, so we often do things separately. This year, for example, I’m going to my home state a few days before the holidays and will figure out when I get there what days I’ll be at my mom’s and which at my dad’s. He’s flying in Christmas day after spending the eve and morning with his family, and that is just fine by me.

Oh, and one other thing: on years that we’ve not had plane ticket money, we stay home and everyone misses us, but life goes on!

Edith: Are there any funny stories of mistakes you made (that you can share)? Or victories?

Jane: This year when I moved my mom’s Thanksgiving to this past weekend so that everyone could be there. My brother is having surgery the day before Thanksgiving and everyone was feeling super down about having to cancel the holiday, so we just did it a few days early. And you know what? It felt more like Thanksgiving than many in recent memory because everyone who wanted to be there could be since they didn’t have to make a choice of where to be that day. It really made us wonder why we are so stubborn about holding holidays on their official dates.

Edith: How do you make it so that everyone likes you as much as possible? (Making sure that you don’t feel bad about yourself in the process.)

Jane: My approach is twofold: 1. I don’t worry about it. I mean, but I rarely worry about when people don’t like me. Not everyone is going to like you! There are plenty of probably decent people who I don’t like, you know? So I just remind myself that my husband likes me and hope, for his sake, that if his family doesn’t like me that they at least like him enough to not make that his problem. And then 2. I just smile, try not to talk way too much, and stay super busy being helpful.

Edith: Was there a moment when it suddenly felt like the two of you had not just blended two things together but were truly creating something altogether new — a third thing, a new family?

Jane: Yep, last year when we hosted Thanksgiving for the first time. His mother came and it was actually my first time meeting her and it just felt very stress-free and reasonable, unlike flying all over the country twice a winter. It was bittersweet because we had such a lovely time, but his mom had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer so we were extra-extra thanks-giving that we could spend the time together. Anyway, it was so low-key and peaceful that we’re doing it again this year.

Edith: I love you, Jane!! Happy holidays. 

Jane: Happy holidays, Edith! I wish you could come over Thursday!

Edith: Me too, a lot.

Jane: I have a question, though: what kind of issues DO come up for people? Are parents actually not-understanding jerks to their grown kids in relationships? Do they feel like they have ownership over the holiday and everyone’s time or something? We don’t have holograms or clones, mom/dad/stepmom/grandpa/in laws! You know? Ugh, I’m getting mad at those people just imagining them. Sharing is caring. I guess that wasn’t a question.

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