Remember when yours was a young family? The transition of being single to being married? Then along came the kids and things changed again. And when the holidays rolled around, you had a potentially problematic dilemma on your hands. 

  • How could you preserve the traditions from your own childhood that you held so dear?
  • How would you be able to make time and room for your spouse's family and their traditions?
  • What "new" customs and rituals would you forge with your own growing family?

Were you ever torn between your two families? Did you feel that you always had to compromise and "be flexible"? Was it hard to find "your" place with your in-laws? Where there ever hurt feelings? Did you spend a lot of your early years and holidays traveling from one family to another?

And remember when you finally had a home of your own and it was important to you to spend some of the holidays at home? Maybe you wanted to cook your first turkey in your kitchen. Or you had visions of barbequing with the guys in your backyard.

Somewhere along the way, you began breaking away from your childhood customs and established your own unique observances that fit the needs of your growing family. How supportive were your families of these inevitable changes?

If your "growing" family has grown up, gotten married and therefore brought new members into the fold, your adult children are going through the same period of adjustment that you had to make so many years ago. They are now part of someone else's family as well, which means that so are you! And as special and sacred as your holiday traditions have become to you and your family through the years, it is now time for you to compromise and be flexible once again.

Your daughter-in-law may be a terrible cook, but that doesn't really matter — does it? Isn't it more important that she feels a part of your family and therefore her contributions (whatever they may be), are welcomed? Your family will survive eating her pumpkin pie rather than yours. She may eventually learn to cook, but how quickly will she forget if you don't allow her to play an important role in the festivities?

Or your new son-in-law is really looking forward to carving that big bird at Thanksgiving. Sure, that's always been your job, Dad. And yes, he doesn't know what he is doing. But he's a lot more likely to learn if given the chance than if you continue to do it for him. And is a well-carved turkey more important than a well-crafted relationship with your daughter and her new husband?

Mom and Dad, your roles are still important to the family. But as your children grow up and marry, not only do your roles change, but the way in which you accept those changes can make all the difference in the tone and future development of your family's relationships.

It is important that you embrace your in-laws and allow space in your family for them and for the traditions that are just as important to them as yours are to you. No longer can you expect that "every Christmas Eve" or "every Sunday lunch" be spent at your house. Even if the 1st Saturday of every month has always been a family cookout, you may have to adjust your expectations of who will regularly attend.  

Your son or daughter and their spouses need the understanding and freedom to make whatever plans suit their family's needs. And these plans may clash with the way your family has "always done" things. To ensure they never feel unreasonable demands being placed on them from all sides, it is crucial for you to be gracious and accommodating with your expectations. The last thing you want for your children's marriage is for your family to be a source of conflict between them.