Struggle with Family Christmas politics every time the festive season comes around? Relationship expert, Lucy Beresford, shares how to navigate this tricky subject.
Christmas is a highly emotional time, so it’s understandable that relatives can start putting pressure on us to fall in with their logic about how the season is celebrated. Even if some families are comfortable with a routine of seeing one side of the family one year, one the next, it does mean that other future options, such as one family taking a holiday at Christmas, can cause minor earthquakes. Whatever options you are exploring, there are a number of factors that need to be considered when making your decision:
Have you in the past year either got married or had a baby – or even both? If so, your wishes must come first. You are now in the process of creating a new family of your own, even if an actual baby hasn’t come along yet, so you need to be given the chance to develop new rituals of your own. Be aware that family members will be vying to be the ones to nab you for your first Christmas as a married couple or as parents. As an alternative, so that no-one feels slighted, you could offer for relatives to come to your house for Christmas Day, but on the understanding that they don’t stay the night and (if you are new parents) that they bring festive food.
Do you have demanding parents or in-laws? Pay attention to whether you are routinely being pressurised into going to one family or the other. Pressure can come in the form of hypothetical scenarios (“it’s probably going to be your Dad’s last Christmas”) or simple emotional blackmail (“our Christmas will be so dreadful/hopeless/empty without you there”). Set your boundary and be firm. Rather like dealing with a toddler temper tantrum, prepare yourself for some emotional pressure in the form of anger or the silent treatment, but don’t cave in. Your Christmas is an important time to re-charge the batteries.
Has there been a bereavement since last Christmas? This factor needs to be handled delicately since it is not always the case that the bereaved person wants to be surrounded by lots of people at Christmas. If they want the distractions and support, being with them probably takes precedence, but find out first what they would prefer to do. They might prefer being treated to a Christmas in someone else’s home, away from too many reminders of their loved one.
re step-children or an ex-partner in the picture? It is not helpful to expect children to decide where they want to spend Christmas, as it puts them under too much pressure to please all sides. Instead, have early conversations with the other grown-ups about who visits who. And if you believe you are missing out not having your own children on Christmas Day itself, shift your mindset. Plan wonderful things for yourself for 24th, 25th and 26th, and also create a different day on which to celebrate with your children – maybe in January, when we can all do with an excuse to have fun.
And finally, if you’re newly dating but you want to be with each other on the day, recognise that with so much emotion flying around, it might be sweeter to gravitate back to your respective families but to contact each other throughout (if nothing else, to let off steam!). As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Lucy Beresford is a psychotherapist, relationships expert, TEDx speaker and author of Happy Relationships at home, work and play.