‘Dump the mum-in-law with us this Christmas’ was the tongue in cheek headline in the Daily Record as Holiday Inns announced its advertising campaign with special rates of 25% off to entice families to spend their Christmas in the hotel chain, in order to avoid many of the stresses facing families over the festive period.
‘Get Rid of ‘outlaws’ on the cheap’ ran the Metro with the Daily Mirror also giving their article which announced that the hotel was offering festive ‘in-law’ rates the title ‘Dump your mum-in-law’. I’m sure the thought of ‘dumping’ your in-laws never entered your head, but when money’s tight and the children are over excited about presents you really can’t afford to buy them(and you haven’t dare tell them yet) the thought of the in-laws for Christmas and New Year could be a family duty too far.
If you’re facing your first Christmas or New Year with the in-laws and wondering how it’s going to be, think back to when you were married and how much they put on your shoulders. Were they helpful or a hindrance? Did they add to your day or detract from it? There’s a good chance the way they were then is a sign of how they will be this holiday.
It is a bit of a cliché, but it’s no less true for that: in-laws + Christmas = stress for the couple family catering for it, whether or not you normally get along with them. Granted Christmas is a time to remember family and make an effort with them, but unless you stated some time ago that you were getting away for Christmas (preferably aboard) the chances are you won’t escape some stress from family members including in-laws this festive season.
Jane Bednall, spokesperson for Holiday Inn comments: “At Christmas most of us want to spend time with our extended families catching up over a juicy roast turkey and a glass of plonk or two. What we don’t enjoy is a house-full of relatives arguing over the bathroom and getting under each other’s feet. Our mother-in-law rate provides a wallet friendly alternative that means families can spend quality time together this Christmas without all the hassle and the family politics.”
Family Christmases can be extremely stressful, especially for the family planning and catering for it, with incidents of argument multiplying during the festive period. With each family planning it differently and with their own traditions to be upheld, it’s no wonder people find it so stressful as families are resistant to the slightest hint of a different way of doing it, which wouldn’t be ‘their way.’
What is normal for one family can be unheard of for another. My children queried my choice of Christmas dinner desert this year when I suggested we try the Danish one I was brought up with: cold rice pudding with cream and marinated cherries. “Rice pudding!” they exclaimed in disgust, even though we agree every Christmas that the best bit of the traditional English Christmas pudding is the sight of it on fire.
If you’re stuck with in-laws and staying elsewhere simply isn’t an option, then what can you do to reduce stress? As with so many things, we often know what we don't want at Christmas but we don't know what we do want. So how can you pay attention to what will make you happy at Christmas when there are so many people to please?
Here are my top three tips:
Remember you don’t have to do it all - ask everyone in your family for the three most important things that make their holiday special. Then focus on those things and forget the rest. Or if you feel yourself doing other unnecessary things anyway, then ask who are you doing it for? Yourself? Why?
Don’t knock your spouse’s family and if it’s likely to be an issue, politely request that your spouse does likewise with your family. Manage expectations and make sure everyone understands the reason for them eg. one Christmas present in the stocking only this year because times are hard; fizzy white wine rather than champagne for the same reason. Set boundaries too and make sure you communicate them eg. the new Playstation Wii will be turned off at 3pm before starting Christmas dinner at 4pm.
Don’t forget your own needs too - you need downtime too, time to watch that film or take a walk. State firmly and clearly what your needs are and ask for help in attaining them.
And enjoy. And if that’s impossible, then take a hint from Kit and the Widow’s ‘Jesus, what a way to spend your birthday’: “I’ve had enough, I’m going where There’s peace and quiet and space and air The church next door – there’s no-one there!” Copyright notice © Copyright Kirsten Gronning 2009. All rights reserved worldwide.