Q. Every year during the Christmas holidays we visit my family and my husband’s family. Every year we are distressed by these visits. His family treats him like a child and ignores me. My parents are almost as difficult. No matter how long we stay they complain about the shortness of our visit. What can we do to make these family visits at Christmas less difficult and more enjoyable?
Visiting Parents and In-Laws
Family visits at Christmas can be fraught with problems. When we visit our parents as adults we may revert to our childhood role in the family. Whether we act like children again or are treated as though we are still a child, old issues between us and our parents often rear their heads. This can be confusing to our partner. All of a sudden a strong, capable husband or wife is acting like a mama’s boy or girl. They did not experience your history of slights or hurts so can’t understand the current issue.
Your spouse may also feel excluded during family visits at Christmas. We are back in the family nest, all cozy and comfortable, having intense, meaningful or even hilarious times with our parents and siblings and they feel left out. They don’t know the inside jokes. They don’t share the history of our past.
You may be dismayed at your own reactions to your family or to minor changes your parents have made. Your former room may now be in use as a study, for example. Childhood hurts and patterns can haunt us for a long time.
Your parents may feel sad because they’re no longer as important to you as they once were. Depending on the needs and maturity of your parents they may demand more time or attention, find fault with you or your spouse, or accept things as they are. Letting go of children isn’t easy. Family visits at Christmas may be difficult for them also.
Visits with Family
There are a number of things you can do to prepare for visiting your families this Christmas.
1. Talk over in detail with your spouse the problems you expect. Listen carefully and get a clear understanding of the problem issues for each of you. Then brainstorm about how to handle these problems. Be united and it will help you relax and enjoy both families.
2. Set up signals to use while visiting to let each other know when something is upsetting either one of you. Make a plan to talk alone each day about how things are going. Couples need some privacy even during visits.
3. Remind yourself that your first loyalty is to your spouse now, not to your parents or siblings. This is what marriage is all about. When family conflict occurs side with your spouse, no matter what.
4. Talk with your own parents ahead of time if there are specific problems that need to be addressed. Make clear to them the time you will arrive and when you will leave. Let them know also about any other plans. You may want to take a day to visit friends nearby. This will give them time to adjust to your expectations.
5. Show love and appreciation to your parents and your in-laws. In spite of their flaws they love you and they will put time, effort and money into entertaining you when you visit. Be respectful and understanding toward them.
6. Remember “the Reason for the Season,” Christ gave up his home to come to us as a babe, to live with us, teach us and redeem up, giving his life for us. Problems melt in the knowledge of the eternal God. Enjoy the Christmas celebrations and “Honor your father and mother. “ Deut. 5:16
I hope these ideas help you have blessed family visits at Christmas.