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Making Room for the In-Laws Over the Holidays

  • Deborah J. Thompson Contributor
  • 2010 6 Dec
Making Room for the In-Laws Over the Holidays

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.

And remember, his or her family has their expectations too. So your adult children are trying desperately to please both families and probably failing miserably in the process, not to mention dreading the holidays altogether!

So take a moment to examine your expectations:

  • Have you just "assumed" that they would be at a particular gathering?
  • Are you willing to change your long-standing family plans to accommodate the new demands on your married children?
  • Did you allow your feelings to be hurt when they had to miss an event?
  • Have you experienced a sense of jealousy when they spent the holidays with the other side of their family?
  • Have you ever made them feel guilty for not being with your family?

In order for you NOT to be part of the problem, it is wise to be part of the solution. The easier you make things for them, the more likely they are to want to include you in whatever plans they make for themselves. And isn't that your true goal—to spend valuable time together?

Why not think outside the box?

What's wrong with going to your son-in-law's parents' house for Thanksgiving? Or inviting your daughters in-law's family to spend Christmas Eve at your house? Maybe they have never been to a Midnight Mass and would love the beauty and reverence of that special candlelight service. You can always collaborate with your children and their family to come up with a fun trip or cruise that all can enjoy. Or imagine spending New Year's Eve with the grandchildren instead of Christmas. Those fireworks can be as awe-inspiring to a young child as Santa's visit.

And if your worse fears actually do come true, and you and your spouse find yourselves alone again over a holiday for the first time in 30 years, then think back to what you did way back when—you might just enjoy this new-found freedom from responsibility. No shopping, no cooking, no preparing guest rooms for overnight visitors. You can go out to a nice restaurant or even rent a cozy little cabin in the mountains and rediscover why you fell in love and created this family in the first place!

Be the example you want to set for your children. Just because they are now adults, your role as parent is not over! You still have much to teach them as you experience each stage of life before they do.

Remember, you will always be a step ahead of where your children are going. You will always get there "first", which gives you a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate by your example, how to transition gracefully through all of life's changes. So start today by being the best in-law you can possibly be. Make spending time with your family as enjoyable for your children and their spouses as it is for you.

Let your presence be such that wherever you are, when your family is gathered together with you, they can breathe a peaceful collective sigh and say, "I am exactly where and with whom I want to be—This is HOME!"

"For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, "Peace be within you." Psalm 122:8

Deborah J. Thompson is a writer, artist and Stephen Minister. Her articles are published by and "The Fish" family of Christian radio station websites around the country. She shares "Reflections" on Life and Relationships on her website, And she is working on her first book, Your Life, Your Choice—5 Steps to Peace. Join her on Facebook and Twitter/InspireReflect.