Tag Archives: In-laws

Managing Relationship Issues During, and About, the Holidays

I originally wrote about this topic three years ago, when I’d first started this blog. Much of what I wrote then remains true and, because I’m as keen to remind myself of some of the tips that I offer others, I wanted to revive and revise this post now. I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips on how to best manage differences of opinion with your spouses, and your kids, about holiday traditions, about where to spend the holidays, etc, so please feel free to comment on this post.

I’m writing this on Halloween, a fun holiday that gives me great joy, since both my kids adore it (my daughter is Super Girl this year and my son is Scooby Doo). But if we’re talking about favorite holidays, Thanksgiving wins hands down.

I’ve attributed my favoritism to the fact that, as an ex-pat Canadian, I didn’t grow up with the national fanfare and non-denominational appeal of U.S. Thanksgiving, which means I don’t have any childhood baggage around the holiday. No distressing family memory, no assumptions about what Thanksgiving merriment should look like.

In the absence of that baggage,  Thanksgiving has seemed—to me at least—like an opportunity for festive inventiveness, a day to be designed and redesigned annually to reflect my shifting experience of gratitude.

Now that I’m married, and a mother, I’ve been thinking about how to keep that inventive spirit alive and how to approach any number of occasions, not just Thanksgiving, in a way that both honors my own and my wife’s distinct holiday yearnings and reflects what we want to create together as a family.

Like many things that are passed from one generation to another, how we celebrate holidays—including, where and with whom—gets naturalized over time:

We’ve always done it this way and we always will.

Yet as parents in committed relationships, we often juggle two different sets of family traditions. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for couples to spend so much time negotiating, or battling over, holiday details that we forget to discuss and, better yet, discover what kind of holiday we—as a couple and as parents—want to create for ourselves and our family.

How do we  create our family traditions?

A great first step, assuming you’re spending the holidays with your, or your spouse’s, family of origin (meaning, the family you grew up with), is to approach this season like a an explorer charged with discerning the unique tribal practices of your hosts.

Your job is to be curious about those practices—even if you grew up with them—to better understand their importance and their symbolic value to the tribe.

Once you’ve had a chance to record data about your and your beloved’s holiday traditions, both of you jot down those that are most important to you, those that honor each of your priorities and values.

Next, share your discoveries with your spouse. Don’t be surprised if, it turns out, that what you value most about your childhood traditions is more about how they enhanced your sense of self or family than the practices themselves.

Understanding what we don’t appreciate about some of our own or our spouse’s holiday traditions is equally useful; by inverting what we dislike, we often find what’s important to us and what we want to honor in our own family.

Once you’ve done this legwork, ask yourself and your spouse:

What traditions feel non-negotiable?
What about those traditions is so important to me and to you? 

If you find that one or more of those traditions spark disagreement, consider:
Given how important this tradition is to me, how do you think we can find a way to honor it, at least to some degree? OR

How might we honor each other’s traditions—even the ones we dislike—in a way that’s respectful? How can we communicate our different perspectives to our kids and still reflect a team spirit, even if we don’t agree with each other’s priorities? 

And, perhaps, most importantly:
If we were to set aside both our families’ holiday traditions and imagine starting from scratch, how would you describe what this holiday means to you and what you’d like it to mean to our family?

What new or revised traditions might capture the spirit of your holiday vision?

Many of us experience holidays (or pressure from parents or in-laws about holidays) as  sacred. Conversely, some of us bridle against holiday fanfare so much that it’s hard to imagine the merits of any past traditions.

Whatever our story, holidays offer our relationship and family an opportunity to understand what we do and don’t appreciate from our own childhoods and what unique traditions we can design for our own children.

In that sense, we’re not just explorers this holiday season, we’re time travelers; inspired by  holidays of yesteryear, we’re primed to  bridge the gap between our pasts and our kids’ present.

Can We Talk? Ways for Parents to (Re)Connect

Like most parents, I have a long to-do list on which any number of items get pushed from one day to the next and the next and…you get the idea. So instead of berating myself for playing that to-do game with a post for this blog, I thought I’d let you in on some of the to-do items I have been able to check off my list, including: Having a ton of fun being interviewed by SuperMommyNot.com founder, TV reporter Donna Tetreault. Donna, who has two young boys, and I had a great conversation, which was that much more fun because her cameraman was so jazzed by our discussion of parents’ relationships that he kept interjecting his own questions. The result? 4 short segments on Donna’s website, which ran a couple of weeks ago. In case you missed them, or one of these topics is near and dear to your heart and you’d like to take another gander, here are the clips:

“Can We Talk” Part 1: Reconnecting with Spouses
“Can We Talk” Part 2: Conflict & Communication
“Can We Talk” Part 3: Date Night & Other Strategies
“Can We Talk” Part 4: The Challenge of In-Laws

What To Do If Our Holiday Traditions Collide? Come on Parents, Get Curious!

I love Thanksgiving; it’s my favorite holiday.

I’ve attributed my bias to the fact that, as an ex-pat Canadian, I didn’t grow up with the national fanfare and non-denominational appeal of U.S. Thanksgiving.

In short, I don’t have any childhood baggage around the holiday, no challenging familial associations, no assumptions about what Thanksgiving merriment should look like.

In the absence of that baggage, for years Thanksgiving seemed—to me at least—like an opportunity for festive inventiveness, a day to be designed and redesigned annually to reflect my shifting experience of gratitude.

Now that I’m married, and a mother, I’ve been thinking about how to keep that inventive spirit alive and how to approach any number of occasions, not just Thanksgiving, in a way that both honors my own and my wife’s distinct holiday yearnings and reflects what we want to create together as a family.

Like many things that are passed from one generation to another, how we celebrate holidays—including, where and with whom—gets naturalized over time:

We’ve always done it this way and we always will.

Yet as parents in committed relationships, we often juggle two different sets of family traditions. When that happens, it’s not uncommon for couples to spend so much time negotiating, or battling over, holiday details that we forget to discuss and, better yet, discover what kind of holiday we—as a couple and as parents—want to create for ourselves and our family.

How do we begin to do that?

A great first step, assuming you’re spending the holidays with your, or your spouse’s, family of origin, is to approach this season like a cultural anthropologist, or an intrepid explorer, charged with discerning the unique tribal practices of your hosts.

Your job is to be curious about those practices—even if you grew up with them—to better understand their importance and their symbolic value to the tribe.

Once you’ve had a chance to record data about your and your beloved’s holiday traditions, both of you jot down those that are most important to you, those that honor each of your priorities and values.

Next, share your discoveries with your spouse. Don’t be surprised if, it turns out, that what you value most about your childhood traditions is less about the specific practices and more about how they enhanced your sense of self or family.

Understanding what we don’t appreciate about some of our own or our spouse’s holiday traditions is equally useful; by inverting what we dislike, we often find what’s important to us and what we want to honor in our own family.

Once you’ve done this legwork, ask yourself and your spouse:

What traditions feel non-negotiable and what about them is so important to you?

If you find that one or more of those traditions incite disagreement, consider:
Given how important this tradition is to me, how do you think we can find a way to honor it, at least to some degree? OR

How might we honor each other’s traditions—even the ones we dislike—in a way that’s respectful? How can we communicate our different perspectives to our kids and still reflect a team spirit, even if we don’t agree with each other’s priorities?

And, perhaps, most importantly:
If we were to set aside both our families’ holiday traditions and imagine starting from scratch, how would you describe what this holiday means to you and what you’d like it to mean to our family?

What new or revised traditions might capture the spirit of your holiday vision?

Many of us experience holidays (or pressure from parents or in-laws about them) as primal and sacred. Conversely, some of us bridle against holiday fanfare so much that it’s hard to imagine the merits of any past traditions.

Whatever our story, holidays offer our relationship and family an opportunity to understand what we do and don’t appreciate from our own childhoods and what unique traditions we can design for our own children.

In that sense, we’re not just explorers this holiday season, we’re time travelers; inspired by the holiday spirit we’re primed to step into team spirit with our spouses, and bridge the gap between our pasts and our kids’ present.

Shared Values as a Couple and as Parents

What’s the secret to our happiness? For starters, we share the same values.

Lots of us claim shared values with our spouses, me included. Shared values are often a bullet-point in our romance-cliff-notes when we tell people why we chose our mates, why we want kids together, why we’re optimistic our love will last.

It’s not surprising, then, that if we hit a rough patch, we find ourselves uttering phrases like: “I thought we shared the same values, but I guess I was wrong.”

What, exactly, are values?

They’re the qualities, attitudes, and behaviors that are important to our fulfillment. They’re ingredients in the special sauce that makes each of us uniquely who we are and, more than that, who we want to be. For couples, our values help make us, well, us; and those we honor as co-parents offer, for me at least, the true definition of family values.

That’s a long way of saying I get the importance of values. I really do. Which is why I hope you’ll take this in the helpful spirit in which it’s intended:

Most of us don’t know what the heck we’re talking about when it comes to our values, shared or otherwise.

I mean we literally don’t know. Why? Because we rarely spend adult-time exploring, defining and, most importantly, choosing our values as individuals, as a couple and as co-parents.

Given that our priorities, indeed our values, often change as life changes, taking time right now to mine our values–better yet, to figure out which ones are non-negotiable–offers us a roadmap to our fulfillment.

Here’s my line in the sand: To feel satisfied in our lives, I believe we need to honor–if only to a degree–our most important personal values, even when we’re coupled, even when we’re parents. To enjoy our relationships, we have to fan the flames of our values as a couple, and nurture our own and our spouse’s personal values, even if we’re busy parenting.

To co-parent effectively, we have to cultivate our parenting values with our spouses, even if they sometimes bump up against our individual values and values as a couple, and even if it’s challenging to get on the same page with our beloveds.

To do any or all of this, we need to really know our own and our spouse’s values.

Unless we were raised exactly the same way as our mates, we might assume sameness where difference exists. The problem isn’t having different values.

The problem is assuming and, indeed, relying on our values being the same without being certain that’s true. If we assume sameness, and find out we’re wrong, we might feel betrayed by our spouse, or worry our relationship is a bust.

Take Craig and Lisa:* They’ve been together 3 years and are expecting their first child. They’ve always shared the value of family. But on the cusp of their baby’s birth, they discovered that the word, family, means a variety of things.

Craig hasn’t had much to do with his parents since he was a teenager. To him, family refers to him, Lisa and their future child.

Once their baby is born, Lisa just assumed family would include more time with her mom and dad, who she also thought would be regular babysitters.

But Craig’s not a big fan of Lisa’s parents and, to be fair, Lisa has complained regularly about their bickering and has spent minimal time with them in the last few years. Still, she’d always presumed that, once the baby’s here, her complaints would be set aside.

Why? Her grandparents were really important to her growing up, so her version of family includes her own parents hanging out a lot with her kid.

Craig not only disagrees, he thinks that, given how Lisa’s parents handle conflict, they’d be bad role models.

Without a shared understanding of their value of family, Craig and Lisa now have to grapple with reconciling their 2 different perspectives.

Doing so requires them each to, first, understand each other’s definition of the value–which at this point, is an individual value, since it’s not really shared–and, if possible, explain to each other what’s important that individual value.

To move past their standoff, they have an opportunity to work together to redefine family as one of their parenting values, perhaps, by crafting some sort of hybrid definition, by honoring at least some degree of each of their individual definitions.

It’s never too late to clarify our values as individuals, as a couple and as co-parents. The goal isn’t to have the same values; it’s to understand what’s important to us, and our spouse, about each of our core values; and to work as a team to honor those values, at least to some extent.

For steps toward further achieving that goal, check out When Shared Values Aren’t Always Shared.

* Names and details have been changed to protect privacy.