After finishing what I believed to be a pretty successful Thanksgiving meal, my mother-in-law ventured into my living room where she stumbled across a chair and flung her full glass of red wine across the room. The victims included the side of the couch, a coffee table, our recliner and of course our now tie-dyed white and purple carpet. Before I could even console her she spun on her heals, mumbled some kind of apology and headed to the bathroom, where the rest of our guests could hear her sobbing loudly over her spilled wine. It was then I knew the holiday season was in full swing!
My mother-in-law is the sort of woman who will pull down her pants to show a stranger just how dark and painful the bruise is on her upper thigh. She must eat immediately at 5pm, and will insist you take her to the store for one item she “needs” and then con you into buying her groceries for the next two weeks.
In effect, she is the spitting image of my father’s mother, a woman who my own mother spent every holiday mother-in-law proofing the house for, with a “smoking parlor” or chair in the garage, hiding the breakables and replacing the good towels in the guest bathroom with more utilitarian towels. That said my mother remains the only wife of my grandmother’s three sons she refers to as her daughter.
I spent my childhood watching my mother artfully survive her in-laws and after a few years of enduring my own in-laws I have come up with some tips that I hope will be helpful for this holiday season.
- Stay True to your Mate- My husband comes from a large family, and most of them have entered professions with flexible schedules; my husband included. His days generally start at 7am and end at 3:30pm, give or take. I, however, work a 9-5 schedule daily. Despite this, my husband’s family often arrives early for holiday events or schedules things before I can get there. My husband always sticks up for my schedule and ensures that I am neither rushed nor bombarded by family prior to the arranged time.
- Make a Game Plan- We began planning this holiday season in early November, ensuring that everyone has a house to go to and that no one is left out. My step mother-in-law (Yes, like many modern families I have two mother-in-laws. One Step and one Real.) throws Christmas at her house every year the Sunday before Christmas. It’s the ultimate yearly game plan, and ensures everyone gets to see each other around the holidays if we can’t make it to each other on the actual day.
- Respect your In-Laws’ Decisions- Every year my friend, Kristi, and her husband travel to Alabama to visit her family for the holidays, and this year Kristi’s mother-in-law has invited herself to join. There has been an open invitation from Kristi’s family for years, but she never thought the invitation would be accepted. It took some complaining, a reminder from her husband that he never gets to see HIS family on Christmas, and a tongue lashing from her own mother to get her to accept her mother-in-law’s decision. Better pack some entertainment for the car!
- Be Sensitive- Your extended family has a whole network of friends and family outside of you. My sister-in-law lost her own mother several months ago and will be spending her first holiday without her. Unfortunately, problems of all sort don’t take a break for the holidays. While you may be decking the halls, baking cookies and enthusiastically scouring stores for the perfect gift, there is someone else possibly in your own family that is hurting by the mere arrival of the holiday season.
- Compromise- Look for workable solutions. Let’s face it, the grandkids have to be shared by multiple sides of the family, and in many modern families the grandkids may even have four sets of grandparents to see. It’s hard to make sure no one is left out and at the same time keep your sanity at the holidays. You just can’t be four places at once and still enjoy the day.
This is all common sense of course. However, it is so easy to get so wrapped up in the holiday season you forget your manners. When your brother-in-law knocks a glass of wine all over your daughter’s brand new clothes in a manner surprisingly reminiscent of his own mother, just remember it will wash out. What’s truly important is that we remember that the holidays are a time to celebrate family, no matter what quirks they possess!