If It Were Me | December 2016

By Elizabeth Oates

Have Questions?

Dear Elizabeth,

I recently got married, and this is the first Christmas my husband and I will spend together. The problem is we both want to spend it with our respective families. My parents live in San Antonio and his live in Tulsa, so there is no way to see both on Christmas Day. Aside from a coin toss, any advice on how we decide where to spend our first Christmas?

— R.L.

Dear R.L.,

For the past seven years my husband and I have volunteered with Legacy Family Ministries, where we lead engaged couples through a curriculum to prepare for marriage. The issue of in-laws and holidays always comes up, so take solace knowing you are not the first newlywed couple to deal with this issue.

I can’t tell you whose family you should spend Christmas with because every situation is different. I can, however, give you some things to consider.

— What are your parents’ expectations? Maybe one set of parents wants to see you on Christmas Day and the other set might be fine with celebrating on another day. You won’t know until you have an honest conversation with them. Find out how they would like to celebrate, but be upfront in letting them know what they would like to happen will not necessarily occur. You’re simply gathering information, not making promises.

— Are any family members sick? If you have a relative who is ill or your sister just delivered her first baby, those things trump every family tradition and preference.

— Do either of you have siblings who are married? If so, how do they handle holidays? If they alternate who they spend Christmas with every year, follow their lead and get on the same rotation.

— Do either of you have out-of-town relatives who only visit once a year? If your husband’s grandparents from New York only come to Tulsa once a year for Christmas, you might consider celebrating Christmas with his family and seeing your family a different weekend.

— Do either of you have large families? My husband and I are raising five children and although they are young, we already have conversations about what the holidays will look like when they are grown. We know gathering our children plus their future spouses and our future grandchildren (gulp!) on Christmas Day will be difficult. Therefore, we’ve already planned to pick one weekend in December to have our Christmas celebration. If you or your husband comes from a large family, talk to your parents about designating a day aside from Christmas Day when everyone can gather.

— What is your favorite holiday? Talk with your husband about different holidays. Reminisce about childhood memories and traditions. As you discuss, one of you might realize Christmas is not your most treasured holiday. Maybe that person has more nostalgia about Thanksgiving or Easter. In that case, that person should concede Christmas.

— Have you considered hosting? You might be surprised that some parents are ready to pass the baton and would love to come to your house. Why not invite both families to your home and enjoy a holly, jolly Christmas?

As you prepare for this holiday season, remember now is the time to start creating new traditions with your husband. This requires flexibility of the heart. If you spend Christmas with your in-laws, I encourage you to accept the fact that it will feel different from the Christmases you knew growing up — and that’s OK. Embrace their traditions, their family and the moments that turn into memories.

Finally, if either set of parents is disappointed with your decision, remember this transition is difficult for them because they love you and simply want to spend time with you. Just as you are letting go of and embracing new traditions, so are they.

Dear Elizabeth,

My husband tends to spoil our children at Christmas, but I want to keep things simple. How can we find a balance and not let the gift-giving get out of control?

— Not Scrooge

Dear Not Scrooge,

I remember reading “Little House on the Prairie” when I was young, and I still remember the Christmas morning scene. Laura and Mary each received in her stocking a cake, (I’m not exactly sure how they got a piece of cake in their stockings, but I digress) a cup, a stick of candy and a penny — and they were thrilled! The book even says, “Mary and Laura looked at their beautiful cakes and played with their pennies and drank water out of their new cups.”

Can you imagine if we gave our kids cups and pennies for Christmas? There would be a revolt greater than the Boston Tea Party.

Thanks to social media, parents today feel enormous pressure to lavish our kids with the latest gadgets. So much extravagance for celebrating a baby who was born empty-handed.

You and I are kindred spirits when it comes to Christmas gift giving. Now that we have five kids, my husband and I know we can’t let gifts break our bank or clutter our home. So let me recommend this solution that works for us and many other parents: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

We buy each of our kids a gift from each of these categories. Something they want is a fun toy or game. Something they need is practical, like a clock or a comforter.
Something to wear sounds boring, but it can still be fun — think rain boots for girls or those high tops your son has been wanting. Of course, something to read can be a book or a magazine subscription.

On the flipside, all this practicality doesn’t mean you need to rob your husband of his gift-giving joy. Delegate the “want” category to your husband, and watch him light up as much as your kids will on Christmas morning. Don’t forget to ask his input on the other categories as well — I’m guessing his love language is gifts and Christmas is the one time of year he gets to express his love to his family.

Another tradition our family practices is allowing our kids to draw names and buy gifts for each other using their own money (with a $5 limit – Thank you, Five Below!). This teaches them financial responsibility and generosity. Plus, they have fun doing it.

We’re not anti-Santa, but we don’t make a big deal about him either. We let Santa give each child one fun gift and a few stocking stuffers. This is another place where your husband can have fun thinking of creative trinkets for the kids.

Still nervous about Christmas gift-giving getting out of control? Consider these ideas:
— If you can sew or craft, you can make your children’s gifts.
— Encourage your kids to make gifts for one another.
— Set a dollar amount for each child and stick to it.
— Stick to the three-gift rule: The wise men gave baby Jesus three gifts, so you give your kids each three gifts.

The bottom line is to devise a plan and stick to it. Don’t make hasty purchases, and don’t give in to pressure from the media, your friends or your kids. In the end, you all have a merry little Christmas.