Editor’s note: Karee Santos shares this timely article from the CatholicMom.com archives about getting along with our in-laws and other extended family members for this month’s edition of Marriage Rx.
When I asked friends to share their stories of holidays with the in-laws, I never expected to find such great advice and so many hilarious misadventures. My favorite one involves a sheep-slaughtering in an apartment kitchen (my husband Manny can’t figure out why that one tickles my funny bone so much). Here’s a collection of best tips for having happy holidays with the in-laws and extended families. And take heart! You’re not the only one struggling.
1. Don’t Seek Perfection
Holidays are about the love that’s in your heart, not the food that’s on the table. Frequently, at holiday time, I’m so stressed out about preparing the meal and cleaning the house that I’m downright surly to the guests that show up at the door. How completely backwards! Accept that something will go wrong — the turkey won’t be hot by the time everyone sits down to eat, guests will spill gravy and red wine on the tablecloth, and you will be publicly reminded about the last dust bunny that escaped your notice by hiding in the corner. None of this is important. What’s important is opening your homes and your hearts to your families.
2. Keep a Chocolate Stash in Case You Have to Cry
One newlywed wife returned to her house after running holiday errands to find out that her visiting mother-in-law had reorganized the entire kitchen because “it was all wrong.” Just what you need before cooking a big holiday dinner for, like, the first time. The poor wife ran upstairs, locked the door, and ate a chocolate bar. Surprisingly, it worked pretty well at cheering her up.
3. Delegate Chores Ahead of Time
A lot of people assume that the guests will automatically help the host and hostess clear the table and wash the dishes after a big family gathering. But that’s not everyone’s custom. One man told us that he and his three brothers don’t celebrate holidays together, because the sisters-in-law refuse to speak to one another. Once, eight years ago, the whole extended family celebrated Thanksgiving together, and one sister-in-law didn’t help clean up afterwards. The resentment has continued until this day. Talk about a long-term grudge! If you’re the hostess, send an email before the event asking people to help out afterwards or even delegating specific chores. Tell them you just can’t do it without them! If you’re a guest, help out as much as you can — or at least make the offer.
4. Prepare Ye a PowerPoint Presentation
Satire site The Onion spoofed: “In an effort to ensure a smooth and enjoyable dinner with their relatives, siblings Jason, Alyssa, and Leslie Conroy reportedly sat down together Tuesday evening for a PowerPoint presentation covering all of the conversation topics that will be off-limits during the family’s Thanksgiving gathering.” Nobody wants to get into a heated argument over the turkey and sweet potato pudding. Unfortunately, heated arguments can be more likely in large family gatherings because (1) everybody knows everybody’s business, (2) everybody makes it their own business, and (3) everybody is more sensitive to feeling unloved or criticized. So, you can either prepare a PowerPoint presentation of all the painful family secrets that must not be discussed, OR you can ask everybody what they’re most grateful for in the past year and then focus on rejoicing with them instead!
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Skip the Alcohol
The more alcohol, the more chance for heated arguments, of course. One friend wrote, “Problem: Holiday drunkenness. Solution: ???” You can be hospitable without having a fully stocked liquor cabinet! A few bottles of wine at dinner are not likely to get anyone snookered. You can even go gourmet and serve mulled wine, which is cut with several cups of apple cider and is still delicious. If the celebration is usually at someone else’s house, you might want to discuss the problem with the hosts ahead of time or even volunteer to hold the gathering at your house this year.
6. Think to Yourself, “At Least It’s Not a Sheep Slaughter”
One Facebooker revealed: “My mother-in-law once slaughtered and butchered a sheep. In my kitchen. When we lived in a sixth floor flat of an apartment in the middle of the city. …Wow, Mom. All I got you was new kitchen towels.” Another commenter spoke for everyone when she responded, “YOU WIN.” It’s tough to beat that story in the annals of legendary in-law exploits. No matter what happens to you this holiday season, it’s probably not going to be worse than that.
Share your stories in the comments or send them privately to me at santoskaree at gmail dot com. And click here for your free copy of Marriage Rx: 50 Inspirational Quotes to Make Your Marriage Better Today.
This article was originally published at CatholicMom.com in December 2015. Copyright Dr. Manuel & Karee Santos.