My husband is a preacher-man. In this role, he often is asked to perform weddings. When this happens, he always requires that the couple does several sessions of premarriage counseling with him. This is important for the couple as they prepare to spend a lifetime together, but it also allows them to receive a discount on their marriage license. The state of Minnesota is invested in marriages staying together to the point that they promote premarriage counseling (figure out what you don’t know before it’s too late!) in the hope that people stay together. The cost of broken relationships and the impact this has on families and the state’s economy is enough that the state promotes this. Amazing!
One of the tasks that he asks couples to do as part of this premarriage counseling is to determine where they will spend holidays for the first two years of marriage. The man is a whiz, really. The first time I heard him assign this to a couple I thought, “Wow – tough work there, buddy!” And then we had a conversation about how important this is because of the conflicts that it can raise in the future. He always tells couples that finances and each other’s families will be the source of much of the marriage turmoil as they are starting out. Once children enter the unit, they can also be a source of conflict.
Thinking about this more, it makes sense. Money. Families. Children. They all have so much emotion behind them when needing to discuss them. Couples need to hash out some things in each of these areas ahead of time because in each of them, a united approach is absolutely necessary. If couples are not united in their thinking about how to use their money, they will not stick to a budget. It is really that simple. All of the time in the world can be spent on coming up with a great plan, but if one of the two is not committed to sticking to the plan (or the rules…or the values behind the plan or the rules), the plan has been a waste of time. The minute the budget work is complete, the budget may as well go in the shredder unless both can stick to it.
Where should we spend the holidays? How do we make everyone happy? How will we be happy? And how can we be united in this? These are the questions that need to be hashed out before the wife tells her mother that the couple will be spending Thanksgiving with the husband’s family this year. Eesh…watch the cork fly off the bottle! And if the wife is even a bit wishy-washy in her commitment to the decision, her mother will know. And that mother might love the daughter’s husband, but she does not want to share her daughter with his family!
For all of our married life together, the holidays have been a source of great discussion. The one thing that I will say we do well is present a united front to our families. After sixteen years, this should be true. At first, this was not always easy. Spending a holiday in a family system different from my own has been hard at times. I am sure that my husband would say the same for himself. The first time we had lasagna for Christmas dinner, I think he thought we were a little nuts. Fortunately, we also have traditional turkey and mashed potatoes.
As my children grow older and as I watch my friends’ children marry, I realize that the struggles that we have had in deciding what to do when will soon become even more complicated. Although my children are still in high school, they could be married in the not so distant future. My huz and I were married at 21…that is only five years away for Beth. Yowza! What I have learned through my own struggles and through watching the struggles of others is that rarely is eveyone happy with the end result of the holiday negotiations. The truth is, though, that none of us can be in two places at once. And the one thing that I will not promote is having my family unit separated for a holiday (except in extraordinary circumstances…none of which have I run into yet in my own life).
Given that someone will end up unhappy with whatever decision is made actually frees me a little to make the best decision as I see it. We do our best to divide our time evenly. As a pastor, being gone for Easter is rarely an option, so we are always home for that. We have attempted to do an “every other” rotation with Thanksgiving, but sometimes circumstances dictate that it would be best to repeat an appearance in one family or another. The week of Christmas to New Year’s tends to be evenly split between our two sides of the family, but that is not always the case. We make it work; we try to make everyone happy….we just do our best.
In the end, whatever decision is made, the holidays fly by and are behind us sooner than we really want them to be. It would be my hope that whatever the end result of the negotiations, at the foundation of it all our children realize that our commitment to them and to our extended family is one that we take seriously. Spending time with family is important. Because of that, time spent in consideration of where to be and when to be there is also important. However, most importantly, the spirit of the holidays must be preserved. To that end, if staying home with just my husband and children is the best way for that to happen, then that is what we will do.
But not this year…