Remember when you were younger and Christmas was magical and so fun and then you became an adult and realized that Christmas is actually kind of stressful? Maybe that's just me, but maybe that's you too. I didn't realize how stressful Christmas time can be until I got married and all of a sudden had another family to celebrate Christmas with, along with wanting to celebrate with my new husband, and my own family.
Don't get me wrong. I love our families and Christmas is really fun but it's taken Aaron, my husband, and I a few years to figure out a way to make Christmas work for us so that we aren't burnt out, frazzled, and frustrated by the end of all the "celebrating".
So here are some things I've learned over the years trying to navigate Christmas with multiple families, and staying on the same page with my husband.
1. Make sure you and your significant other discuss expectations ahead of making plans.
It took us a while to realize that we can't make plans without the other person. And while you may be like, duh, Amanda. I had a hard time not just making plans and then telling Aaron what they would be. Sometimes it was fine but other times it would make Aaron frustrated. Aaron, who is an introvert and needs time alone, would feel like I hadn't taken his needs into consideration when I would make plans for 7 days straight of family Christmas, and me, being the extrovert, would be fine with that much time around people.
For example, a few years ago we realized that we really wanted to have Christmas Day be a family day. Just the 5 of us, opening presents, never getting out of our PJ's, making cinnamon roles and playing with our new toys all together as a family. If people wanted to join us that was fine, but creating family traditions that our children could count on has become increasingly more important to us. Even if you don't have children, I highly suggest thinking about what type of traditions you want for your family, especially around the holidays!
So when we talk with our families about Christmas, we communicate that Christmas Day is off limits for us but that we'd be willing to figure out another Christmas for us all! It can be hard because between Aaron and I we have 3 other siblings and their significant others families to coordinate with but as we do this year after year, we've figured out a good rhythm as an extended family to accommodate each specific families needs.
It's okay to tell your families that you have boundaries on your time. Do it with grace and patience. I think it's hard for parents sometimes to see their children get older and have families and traditions of their own and that the traditions they started are changing or are no longer. I think showing a little understanding that they may be grieving the way things were, goes a long way. And you can help brainstorm how to adopt some new family traditions together so that they know they aren't being forgotten or that the old ones weren't valued.
Setting up a manageable schedule for your Christmas season, and maybe even saying no to some things so that you can be fully present to the things you do say yes to, is a huge part in making through this holiday season.
2. Give grace and have patience for yourself and to your families.
It can be a stressful time of year. There are financial pressures. You could be stuck inside with a house full of family. You may find hosting Christmas really overwhelming or have an in-law that you find hard to be around. No matter how much you plan and try to iron out the details, it may not go as planned. And sometimes, family is just tough.
You can only control you. So if you are overwhelmed or feeling frustrated, go take a minute, decompress and then come back into the fold renewed and prepared for whatever may happen. I know that there's just something about family that can bring up all kinds of things. Aaron and I will confess our frustration or disappointment to one another and try to help the other person see another side, or just commiserate together for a few minutes.
I know that sometimes, no matter how much you communicate expectations ahead of time, things don't go as planned or your requests aren't honored. I just want to say, that sucks, and can be super tough when you've tried to avoid it. It's okay to be disappointed. People aren't perfect. Having grace in those moments allows you to not get stuck in your disappointment and you can move forward and try to salvage the rest of your time together.
3. Debrief your Christmas season and talk about what you might want to change, or stay the same for the following year.
After each family event, we talk about the things we liked, the things we didn't and how we could do better next year. This isn't something super formal but it helps us, while the event is fresh in our minds, talk it through.
We realized that doing family Christmas back to back is really hard for our immediate family and that we do best when we have some rest between each family. So, we try to avoid it and schedule each family Christmas on the weekends that sandwich Christmas Day. Sometimes it's unavoidable based on other schedules or if Christmas is on a weekend but if that's the case we can plan ahead and think through how we as a family can best handle it.
So as we head into the Christmas season, my hope is that you can enjoy your families! Navigating holidays can be so tough, especially on your relationship, but hopefully these tips can help you be on the same page, communicate well, and ultimately enjoy family and food and the joy of blessing your families with your time and gifts!