Q: I am having some issues with my husband's family. Their annual Christmas dinner is held at my husband’s aunt’s house in a ritzy area where she keeps a lot of valuables around, and there is NO space for children. The house is nice, but on the smaller side, and my family, (me, my husband and our children) eat at a card table in a completely separate room. On top of a plastic mat. I'm not kidding.
Last year's holiday dinner was a nightmare. My husband's family was tense and nervous about the kids running around, and that made the entire evening tense. On the drive home, I suggested to him that we have our own Christmas dinner hosting his entire family, perhaps a few weeks before Christmas as a gesture so we could skip out of seeing his family entirely on Christmas Day.
When we suggested our idea this year, everyone flew off the handle. We have said to his parents for several years now that his aunt’s house is NO GOOD for children. Especially excited, happy, no-napped children on Christmas Day. They have turned our idea down, thrown in guilt trips and are forcing us to come to Christmas dinner.
OK, well maybe they can't force us, but they sure are putting on tons of pressure.
I am upset because we made a decision for our family that is best for us, and they have turned it down. What should I do? Should I fight it more, or give in since the holidays are about family?
Scared to Break Fancy Stuff
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A: Dear Scared,
Wait, what? I thought the holidays were all about getting fancy stuff made in China and breaking it that very same day.
I have this weird personality quirk: In any situation, I am The Hostess. I feel responsible for everyone’s fun. I can be at a cocktail party and feel like I should chat up the quiet girl in the corner. I attend my family’s gatherings and try to make the most silent of my cousins laugh. I engage with the snottiest of parents at every play group, and my smile grows wider when I run into a person who never smiles at all.
As such, I am horrified that your extended family, with whom you are stuck by virtue of your choice in a spouse, can be so obviously inhospitable to you and your children on what is supposed to be this most joyous of occasions. But then again, not everyone is like me, and I have come a long way on the journey to acceptance of that fact.
As the actual hostess of a holiday dinner, your aunt's job is to welcome you to her event and do everything she can to provide for your comfort and enjoyment. This, I’m afraid, does not include laying down a tarp under your table, or putting Baby in a corner.
I heave a big sigh for you, Scared. Unless you stand your ground, you are blessed with the task of making the best of this situation and counting the days until next Christmas when you can try again. (That, or making a quick exit by bringing some canned cat food in a baggie and planting it as evidence that one of your little ones got sick.)
What you need to do is strap yourself in for the ugly ride you’ll probably go on once you stand your ground. Might as well do it now and get it over with. Tell them that you have decided on what is best for your kids and you are going to do it. Tell them that you are happy to congregate with them on another day, when you will play hostess and you’ll do it with class.
Unless they are actually religious and hold true to the reason for the season, for real, they will be hypocrites if they insist upon seeing you on December 25.
Look at your spouse and your kids. They are your family now.
You know what is right for your family. It’s your job to stick to it and make it happen. You are free to make your own holiday traditions. The in-laws may kick and scream for a little while, and I know that is hard to bear. But that’s the point. The right thing is hard sometimes.
Eventually they’ll have to quiet down and accept you on your own terms. You’re family. They’re stuck with you, too.
Do you have a dilemma that’s too big for your girlfriends, but too small for a therapist? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I may choose to answer it in next week’s column. I’ve got your back!
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