Whose Home for the Holidays?
Negotiating with the In-Laws
Whose family -- yours or hers -- gets which holiday visits? My wife and I have figured out how to make both sides of our family happy, sort of.
It begins the moment you're married and it never stops -- even after you're dead.
It's the competition over whose family gets more time with you, as a married couple. And, believe me, it's a competition that nobody really wins, which is amazing when you consider how much time and energy is spent keeping score.
Whose family gets you for which major holidays? Whose family gets more "spontaneous" drop-ins for dinner? Who has more access to the grandchildren?
And, of course, at whose family plot will you be spending eternity?
"How do you love me?" some parents may ask, with pleading eyes or telephone sighs. "Let me count the days."
By the way, I don't blame families for feeling possessive of their married children's time. I understand those feelings completely. While I adore my wife's family, sometimes when I'm having fun with them I feel as if I'm cheating on my own kin. I doubt my in-laws could ever understand just how guilty I occasionally feel because I like them as much as I do. And I understand my own parents' pain that they had to let go and share my brothers and me with our spouses' clans.
I think most people assume that their family will be more prominent in the marriage. I know I did. We grew up minutes from my father's parents, whom we saw weekly for dinner and on all holidays -- while visiting with my mom's family much less. And all our lives we saw people marrying into our family and getting sucked into its orbit. Then I met Diane, whose family was also accustomed to being the center of the universe.
Since we got married in late October, we had been back from our honeymoon for about two days when we had to begin negotiations over the most competitive run of holidays on the calendar -- Thanksgiving through New Year's. It's times like these when you wish you could hire a "relationship agent." What you're looking for is the ability to leverage any concessions against the tricky spring holiday gauntlet, which runs, depending on your religion, from Easter or Passover through Mother's and Father's Days and, since a lot of parents got married in June (as ours did), a set of competing wedding anniversaries.
Smart relationship agents would also include language about high school reunions, which may require a bonus trip home every five years. They might also broach the touchy subject of any family summer vacationing, which is actually more of a futures market. In reality, parents are less invested in vacationing with you than in securing valuable options on time-shares with their as-yet-unborn grandchildren.
Of course, we hadn't thought about any of this -- we were still writing thank-you notes. (And when I say "we," I mean Diane.) We let it all unfold naturally and, for several years, geography helped keep everything manageable. Because the drive to Diane's hometown took eight grueling hours and her siblings were scattered, the family had a tradition of getting together up there only twice a year, but for a week each time. My parents lived closer, but still too far away for a day trip. We saw them much more often than hers, but always in short bursts.