Not a couple was merry, not even one spouse.
The stockings hand quilted by Grandma with care,
Were replaced by Dad’s mom with new store-bought pairs.
The children played video games all snug in the den,
In hopes that Mom and Dad would get it together again.
I, in the kitchen, with Sammy the cat,
Begged for more scraps while Mom and Dad spat.
When out in the family room there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my dog bed to see what was the matter.
There, with their hats and coats ready to leave,
Were Nona and Grandpa insulted and peeved.
“Now Johnny and Sally, we’ve had all we can take,
You invited us here – that was quite a mistake!”
I heard them exclaim as they drove out of sight,
“Why does Christmas Eve always end in a fight?”
In-Laws or Outlaws?
Genesis 2:24 introduces us to what is referred to as the “leaving and cleaving” principle for marriage: This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. How well we cut the apron strings to become “us” is evidenced by how we handle the holidays and holiday traditions.
Examining the Crime Scene
The location: Johnny and Sally’s house.
The problem: Nona imposed her opinion on the couple by purchasing machine-made stockings to replace Sally’s mother’s hand-made stockings that Nona decided were dingy and tacky.
Result: Sally feels hurt because she loved those stockings and the love her mother put into making them. She feels hurt that Johnny did not understand and defend her by refusing to let his mother replace them.
Is Nona a bad person? Not really. She is doing what she’s always done – taking care of Johnny. But he did not set boundaries. Is it stealing to take something left out in the open?
“Good fences make good neighbors,” a multicultural proverb often attributed to Robert Frost, is an important concept for relationships. Good boundaries let others know what is allowable on our turf. If we mess up our yard, it’s our problem. A good fence signifies others are not supposed to leave a mess on our property. They are welcome to visit but on our terms.
“Forsaking all others” is a boundary-setting wedding vow designed to move your inner circle, which was formerly occupied by your parents, to include only your spouse. Parents become outsiders. That can feel hurtful to those who have invested so much into raising you, but done lovingly, the pain can be minimized.
Where Will You Spend Christmas?
“Four Christmases” was a 2008 movie about a couple with two sets of divorced parents. They decided to avoid Christmas issues and, instead, escape to Fiji under false pretenses. A television crew interviewed them at the airport, exposing their deceit. Their scheme unraveled into an all but impossible attempt to please everyone by visiting all four parents.
How do you choose where you will spend Christmas without hurting someone’s feelings? Do you stay home or go to your in-laws. BK (before kids), it may be easier to travel to parents. Perhaps you can alternate Christmases or have Christmas Eve with one and Christmas Day with the other. AK (after kids), you may wish to have Christmas in your own home.
Like the movie, divorced parents multiply the problem logistically, if not emotionally, especially if the divorced parents have used you for power plays between them. Blended families often involve kids alternating where they spend Christmas. How will you adjust for that, especially if you have kids of your current marriage?
Be sure to focus on “us” solutions, ones that build your marriage. Whatever decisions you make, convey your thought process to your parents in loving ways, reminding them of the biblical mandate to leave and cleave.
Creating Your Own Traditions
You both probably have different ideas about how Christmas should be celebrated. Creating a new “us” means you get to decide what holiday traditions you will set. The slate is clean.
• When to put up tree?
• Artificial or real?
• New or family ornaments?
• When and how to open presents?
• Meal fare and timing?
• Watch football on Christmas?
• Spending limits?
• Cash or credit?
Will deciding cause conflict or connection? Be open. There is no right way.
Don’t Forget the Meaning of the Season
We all get so wrapped up in the busyness and traditions of the season that we often forget what we are celebrating. Philippians 2:6-11 teaches that Jesus stepped out of heaven, becoming fully human while remaining fully God. He humbled Himself as a servant and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Now He sits on His throne of highest honor. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
That is what Christmas is all about. And yet, because of all the travel, shopping and tradition, the greatest message gets lost in the fray.
The Secret to the Best Christmas:
• Remember the reason for the season
• Keep it simple
• Set and keep a budget
• Lovingly set boundaries with parents so no one steals your Christmas.
Patricia Hartman is a CPA/partner at Kofsky, Hartman & Weinger, PA (www.khwcpa.com) and author of “The Christian Prenuptial Agreement: The Power of Marriage Unleashed” available at www.ChristianPrenuptial.com. Twitter @CPrenuptial.