Did you start your marriage full of beautiful hopes, dreams, and expectations? Chances are your answer is yes. When I first became a wife I had a perfect plan for my husband and I would enjoy our holidays. These days off work would be calm and relaxing as we held hands and drove to my parent’s house for a delightfully prepared Thanksgiving dinner. Next year we would go to his family’s big Turkey Day. A similar arrangement would happen for Christmas and Easter.
Needless to explain, it came as quite a shock when November rolled around and his dad’s side and mom’s side of the family informed me of what time on Thursday to show up for that big holiday dinner. Plus, we already had plans to be at my parents. At this point, it didn’t make too much of a difference because it was just me and him. So we crammed in three turkey dinners in one day. Fortunately, all our families were only within 30 minutes of each other so the drive time was minimal. Christmas and Easter ended up being much the same.
Fast forward to three years later when we entered the holiday seasons with our 8-month-old. Plus, I was 2 months pregnant and very much in the morning sickness phase. The festivities were not relaxing events and there was not a bunch of lovey dovey hand holding. This is the point where I firmly declared we could attend one holiday event per day. If a gathering happened the next day or on consecutive weekends that was fine. But I could not take the stress of hurrying from one party to the other and mess up nap times. It just wasn’t worth it.
This was an important step in setting some boundaries with my in-laws. My memory is a bit foggy from those crazy early parenthood days and I was ultra hormonal, so I really hope I made my wishes known in a kind and loving way. I want to take a moment to make something clear. My husband’s family is wonderful. They were not doing something inherently wrong or bad. The scheduling was just not best for my own little family and for my personal mental health.
As both our girls grew (and we added a little boy to the mix), more holidays came and went I noticed some new beautiful hopes, dreams, and expectations emerge. As a wife and a mother, I had a perfect plan of how my husband, kids, and I would enjoy our holidays. These special days would be filled with fun and traditions. My husband and I would hug while watching the mirth and enthusiasm of our sweet children enjoy time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. There would be no conflict. Peace and joy would reign supreme.
Do you know that holiday traditions take a lot of time and energy? That was a rude awakening as I tried to do all the decorating, baking, shopping, gift wrapping, and all the odds and ends in between of what makes holidays so busy. Our girls did indeed enjoy time at grandparents with everyone over. What I didn’t take into account were toddler meltdowns, sensitive emotions, and food allergies (my poor second daughter is severely allergic to peanuts and tree nuts). Does this resonate at all with you?
Or perhaps you don’t have kids yet, but there are other hosts of issues that can cause chaos instead of the calm we so desperately seek. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for over a decade. Maybe you face some similar struggles. Can I tell you a secret? For years I thought if I kept my illness hidden, life would somehow be easier. This is so far from the truth. To understand this better we need to review boundaries.
Boundaries are an important aspect in managing peace for my kids and my health, but these same invisible life-saving lines can sometimes be unintentionally destructive. How easy is it to take things personally? When setting boundaries it is helpful to give some explanation of why they are being set in place. After I finally told my in-laws how I struggled and how one event a day not only benefited the kids but also helped with my with depression/anxiety, they were much more understanding. It really wasn’t about them or not wanting to have that family time.
Sometimes people still don’t quite get it, but I’ve found that by extending a little grace, it goes a long way in nurturing relationships. Acknowledging that they aren’t trying to be hurtful is a simple way to do this. What I’ve also discovered is maintaining an attitude of thankfulness makes a huge difference. Giving grace can be as simple as expressing thanks. We can get caught up in our struggles and difficult circumstances. Especially around the holidays, the stress can easily mount. When I intentionally thank my husband’s parents for hosting a family gathering, and when I express thanks for how they love us, those notes of grace transform my heart.