Each of us grew up with certain expectations of Christmas. When two (or more) families are joined by marriage, these expectations may clash with our idea of how it should be celebrated. How can we set healthy boundaries around holiday expectations, yet keep our marriage intact?
Healthy Boundaries are Needed
In a recent conversation with a young wife and mother, she described in horrific detail how extended family members ruined the Thanksgiving she and her husband hosted. A couple of childish adults had major meltdowns that didn’t end well. Do they ever? This couple daydreams of running away to Lake Tahoe with their 3 children to avoid Christmas family drama.
Pam shares the dilemma Christmas presented in her early years of marriage:
Each December, our differing expectations collided, and conflict inevitably ensued. I ended up stressed and snappy while my wounded husband tried to stay out of my way. The sad truth is that by the time the decorations were packed away, Ben and I had to work at thawing the ice that had formed between us. I was angry, he was silent, and our marriage had once again suffered because we didn’t have the courage to communicate about all that was hurting us.
Dr. Kelly Flanagan theorizes that Christmas has a way of exposing marriage, family and identity.
Family ties are strong. And they bind. They bind us to our identities as children. For many married couples, Christmas reveals that our hearts have never really left our childhood homes. And until our hearts leave home, we can’t really begin a new one..
You’ll want to read the complete article here.
Set Healthy Boundaries Before the Holidays
The Hallmark Channel Christmas movies feature themes of love found, problems solved and family tensions ironed out by movie’s end.
However, in real life, how can you set healthy boundaries for family holidays and still be happily married in January?
The first step is to discuss your expectations with your spouse before the usual holiday conflicts arise. Your conversation might include these topics:
Sit down and prepare a budget. Set a limit of what you are going to spend. Next year, don’t wait until the holidays to budget.
When our children were small, lay away was a popular way to manage Christmas spending. Back then, our local bank offered a Christmas saving club, where a certain amount was taken out of our paychecks monthly. What I liked most about this plan was that money could not be withdrawn from this account until mid-November.
Both sides of the family have expectations. Logistically, the challenge of finding ways to celebrate with two to four sets of parents/grandparents and extended or step family celebrations can feel like a brutal game of tug-of-war.
Decide as a couple what boundaries you will set, then stick together, refusing to be swayed by manipulative family members. This is a time where you need each other. You need to be on the same page– united as one–to deal with all the stresses and strains that come with setting healthy boundaries.
A wife and mom who felt battered from the family expectations tug of war pleads:
Can we all promise to give our kids the gift of flexible traditions? So 30 years from now we’re not guilt tripping them into coming to our houses and they understand that things aren’t always going to be 100% the same and that’s ok? ~ Amy
It’s okay to sift through some traditions you want to keep from your childhood, while starting new ones that work for your own little family.
As a couple, take time to discuss a list of holiday traditions and preferences that you think are important. Decide which ones you can let go of and which ones you want to build into your new family story.
Give and receive grace.
The best gift you can give each other is the gift of grace.
Accept from the start that it’s very likely you’re going to ‘fail’ in at least someone’s eyes, if not your own. Good news…you and everyone else will recover! Just agree that, whatever happens, the two of you are going to make Christmas the best you can manage.
After the holidays, evaluate and debrief.
What did you learn from the “fails?” What can the 2018 holiday season gain from 2017’s experience?
There was huge family drama all week, and it hit the fan on Christmas Day—in our home. This holiday served as a wake up call. That we have to set boundaries, and even more than that, that I don’t have to put up with this anymore, that we don’t need to make apologies and walk on eggshells. We’re done playing other people’s games; our family is our own game. — Katherine
Christmas began in a crude stable with the birth of a lowly baby. His nursery featured a crib that doubled as a cattle feeding trough, wall-papered with live, smelly animals.
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace….