Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holidays: His Family, Her Family

When couples come together and begin their new family, they often struggle with how to develop their own traditions while fitting in with the traditions for the family of each. Many couples report that they are exhausted when they try to fit in all of the many traditions from both families. This is often compounded when there is tension within the family or between the new spouse and the in-laws.

Carol and Ed really struggled with this for many years. Carol was angry about the treatment that Ed received from his parents while he was growing up and she did not understand at all how he could continue to even have a relationship with them. Ed felt that Carol was too hard on his family and thought that she should put up with the way his parents continued to treat him … and Carol and their children. Ed said that was just “their way” and Carol should find ways to overlook it for the few days that they spent with his family … the grandparents of his children.

Here are some suggestions for Ed and Carol, and for other couples who face this same dilemma.
Be sure to establish rituals that are only for your family.
Find ways to incorporate extended family in some ways. Having extended families involved helps children … and their families … have a sense of family history and connectedness.
Be very kind to yourselves and make sure that there is some time for rest and recovery. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not “survived”.
If one adult in the family wants to maintain a connection to his or her own family, it is important to try to support it, even if you do not like or understand your spouse’s family. Be sure to talk and plan for this time in order to make it easiest for all involved. Open, honest and respectful communication between both spouses can help to ease the pain. Maybe the communication can also include the in-laws, maybe it cannot. Talk with each other about how, or even if, to involve them in the conversation.

Ed and Carol made the decision to travel to Ed’s home town for 2 days over the holidays. Ed agreed that the family could stay at a nearby hotel and Carol agreed to find ways to be with her in-laws for the afternoon and an evening meal. The couple talked a long time about what were tolerable treatment by Ed’s parents and what needed to be dealt with directly. Both agreed that they would try to stay near each other and Ed would be the one who would take the stand if his parents were disrespectful to Carol or the children.

Both agreed that this was a “work in progress”. There would most likely be things that would happen or be said that they would view differently. They agreed to find a private and calm time to talk about them. Both Ed and Carol agreed that they each felt that protecting their marriage and their family was the most important thing and Carol understood that her husband also wanted a relationship with his parents and for his children to become familiar with this part of their heritage.

What experience do you have with these situations? What are your biggest struggles? What have you found that works?

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