Ask A Woman: “This is full-blown, four alarm, holiday emergency!”
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I count myself among the lucky (minority?) who hit the in-law jackpot. Love the in-laws. Seriously. No, they don’t read this column, so there’s no reason for me to brown nose. The stereotype of the critical in-laws who have no boundaries or respect when it comes to their adult children’s lives just doesn’t ring true in my life. But I know from the experience of other friends and family members that this is perhaps the exception. Dealing intimately with a family that is not yours is really hard. You may have to navigate totally different expectations and traditions and you don’t have the benefit of a built-in life long relationship to serve as a buffer. These differences are exasperated especially during the holidays. If this sounds like what you’re about to face in the next six weeks, it may help to take a few hints from my survival guide.
“Nobody’s leaving! Nobody’s walking out on this fun old-fashioned family Christmas!”
Have realistic expectations… In all likelihood, this will not be the holiday where everyone magically gets along. Optimism is good, but don’t fall prey to thinking that because the election season is over, you and you father-in-law won’t butt heads over politics if he tries to bait you every time he sees you.
…But don’t expect the worst in people. It’s a delicate balance. Approaching interactions with a bad attitude means you’re likely to see them in a negative light. Even benign comments seem offensive if you’ve convinced yourself that your in-laws are evil. Maybe your mother-in-law really does want to know how work is going, she’s not trying to rub it in that you didn’t make partner.
Be kind. Most people experience stress during the holidays. Gift-giving and travel are hard on the budget, all that rich food is rough on the body, and we spend a lot of time in close quarters with people we don’t see that often. Try to be compassionate with everyone, including yourself.
Activate survival mode. If Thanksgiving takes a turn for the worse–you know, statements from your brother-in-law that begin with, “I’m not a racist, but….”–shift into survival mode. Your goal is no longer to try to get some enjoyment out of the day, it’s to survive the day without your blood pressure spiking into hypertension range. That means…
…Take breaks. Volunteer to be the one to run to the store when your wife realizes she forgot to buy a key ingredient. Get the dogs out of everyone’s hair by taking them for a long pre-dinner walk. Step into the bathroom and breathe deeply for five minutes (well, maybe don’t do that after Grandpa Fred’s been in there for half an hour).
Cut your partner some slack. It’s easy to be frustrated with your other half when it’s his family who is subjecting you to all this dysfunction. Recognize that this is part of the deal when you pair up. Your partner understandably wants to have a relationship with his family, and that means that you have to be willing to spend time with them, too.
Connect with your partner. Along the same lines, check in with your spouse. How are they holding up? Just because they want a relationship with their crazy-ass family doesn’t mean they aren’t frustrated, too. Steal a moment in the kitchen to rub her back; pull him outside for a peck on the cheek. You’re in this together, don’t let a little holiday misery sour a good thing.
Keep perspective. The holiday season doesn’t last forever (though it may seem like it when stores start playing “Let it Snow!” on November 1st) and soon life will be back to normal. Try to find small moments of joy even during the stress of the season. It can be a sweet time of year.
Got something brewing in your life? Send me an email–style, etiquette, relationships–I answer it all: firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Coming up on Monday, expect a Holiday Mall survival guide. There won’t be vodka, at least, probably no vodka, but there will be more Clark Griswold. Now, where’s the Tylenol?