It may seem like a given, but I’ve recently learned that A LOT of compromise goes into making a relationship work. I don’t mean like learning to share a closet, or accepting the fact that I’m a morning person and JD probably never will be; we’ve done a really good job and just loving each other for all our differences. I’m talking about compromise surrounding all the little logistical issues and snags that crop up outside of the immediate bubble we live in.

Getting married is about sharing your life with another person, taking two separate lives and creating one new family. But both you and the other person already had a family before you got together, and some how all those extended units needs to be meshed into your lives too. Everything gets doubled – or quadrupled in the case of divorce, which both our sets of parents are. Aside from the thought of “I get two sisters! I always wanted sisters!” I didn’t put much thought into how this whole in-law thing works.

When JD and I moved across the country we knew dividing time between our families would take careful planning. We budgeted for two sets of airplane tickets, boarding for our dog, presents for everyone, rental cars, gas money, time off from work, blah blah blah. Aside from finances, we had to really carefully think about our parents and home-town friends feelings and be real about the fact that there just wouldn’t be enough time to see every single person we wanted to. Finally we agreed that spending Thanksgiving in CT with my family, then Christmas in WI with his made the most sense this year and we announced those plans early so no one was surprised or disappointed.

My in-laws-to-be are pretty kick ass. They have always been warm and welcoming to me and supportive of our relationship. Plus, they are just really fun people, so I wasn’t nervous or stressed at all about spending Christmas week there. Laughs, good food, a few presents, then a plane ride home, right?

The holidays can create delicate situations and intensify the dynamics of even the most functional of families. Dealing with your own family is one thing, being in the middle of someone else’s is completely different. Even if you’re welcomed and accepted, you’re never really in. And that’s normal and perfectly ok, but it sure makes it tricky to navigate. It’s hard to tell what jokes and teasing are hilarious between the family, but maybe not ok if you say them, or how much of your own opinion to offer when asked but you don’t agree with everyone else, or X, or Y, or Z.  And of course, I wonder if JD feels this way when he’s with my family too and feel guilty that everything seems so stressful. Oh ya, and there’s also the “how do I blog about any of this without giving the wrong impression or upsetting anyone” thing. Cause you know, I write about things, and sometimes posts upset people no matter how tactful I try to be.

But my biggest challenge was something I never expected would be an issue: everything was different. SO. DIFFERENT.  I knew it would be, as the Italian Catholic traditions I grew up with are very specific. I just never thought I’d miss them. This was my first Christmas away from home, and it was way more emotional than I anticipated. We spent ALL day Christmas Eve at JD’s aunt’s house. Their entire family, all the aunts, uncles, and grandchildren, were there. We played board games, white elephant swap, and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner there. The turkey and sides were delicious, but a knot in my stomach craved spaghetti and clam sauce, cream filled pastries, even the overdone chestnuts my grandma always forgot in the oven.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been truly homesick before. I have moments when I do something incredibly stupid and wish my best friend were there to laugh with me, or when I hang up the phone with my grandpa and want to be sitting at his kitchen table having coffee, but those are fleeting and don’t bother me much. It was really strange and terrible to be having a perfectly fine time and still want to be somewhere else so badly.

So what does this mean for the future? Is it possible to become part of another family without feeling like you are giving up the traditions of your own? Is it possible to see everyone we love and still take time for ourselves? Are JD and I destined to play the spend all your vacation time making the rounds to various relatives and then need a vacation from the vacation game?

  • How do you navigate the holidrama of someone else’s family?
  • How do you split the holidays with your partner and still keep your own traditions?

3 responses to “Holidrama

  1. As the aunt you spent Thanksgiving with, let me first say it was an honor to have you and JD here. And, let me also say that I totally understand where you are coming from here! We had moved 2k miles from “home” during our first year married and made the pilgrimage back to see everyone at Christmas. Our appointment book was over-loaded with plans. There were the people we “had to see” and the people we truly wanted to see. It was exhausting! I still recall looking out the window as the plane approached Albuquerque and saying to myself, “It’s good to be home!” It was the first time either of us considered NM “home.” Before that, CT was always Home to us. It was an interesting transition as a couple. Years later, after our return to CT and the girls arrived we decided it was time to create some of our own traditions….Blending families and traditions isn’t easy, but, hey, it’s so worthwhile! BTW, if John’s family is anything like him, you hit the jackpot!

  2. Thanks for commenting Mike! I’m sure it will get easier for both JD and me as time goes on. I was just really surprised at how jarring it all seemed this year. Haha I’d be interested to know how you’ve acclimated to my family – we can be pretty strange ;P

  3. Much of what you discuss here touches on the conceptual system that comprises a family, each part of that system combining into a whole. Each relationship with a member of an external family system brings new components together which will influence the dynamics of each family sub-system. It grows exponentially it seems. Adjusting isn’t usually easy at first. Over time the voids and the fulfillments tend to create their own familiarities, which eventually become what we romanticize about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s