Don’t Be Afraid Of A ‘Meet The Fockers’ Holiday
For a lot of people I know, the thought of spending the holidays with both their own parents and their in-laws, together, would conjure up feelings of nausea and images of awkward conversations followed by even more awkward periods of silence. Not for me. I see four people from very different backgrounds who nevertheless manage to have a warm and happy Christmas surrounded by their children and grandchildren. I also see at least a 50% reduction in pain-in-the-ass traveling.
Imagine for a moment if the whole of your holiday travel planning was to figure out on which day you would arrive somewhere and which day you would leave. Or even better to some minds – when your guests would arrive and leave so that your only travel would be to the grocery store and back.
Whether you prefer hosting or guesting, my point is that the days of separate-but-equal celebrating could be over. Let’s face it, now that you have children the holidays really are not about you anymore. (Nor, for that matter, is any given day, but I digress…) Your parents still love you but they really want to see their grandchildren. They might offer you a gift or two in the name of nostalgia, but they actually enjoy shopping for your kids and want to be there to witness the excitement on their little faces when they open those carefully selected presents.
I’ll sidestep just a bit here to mention that it’s not my belief that the holidays (Christmas, in our family) should be all about gifts. But between the ages of, say, one and 10, you’re allowed to feel like they are. Far be it for me to deny my children the thrill I felt as a kid upon plugging in our tree and then seeing all those red, green, silver and gold-wrapped packages sitting underneath its multi-colored lights. There will be a time when it’s totally appropriate to de-emphasize the “stuff-getting” aspect of the December holidays, but I’m fine with letting our toddlers get a few “Holy shit! Look at all those presents!!” mornings under their belts.
Having said that, the simple fact that both their Nana and Papa and their Gramma and Grandpa will be in one place sends a clear message to our kids that this holiday is something special. It stresses the importance of family without us having to say, “You know, Christmas is really about spending time with people you love.” We’re showing instead of telling, which everyone knows is about 58 times more effective than the reverse.
This begs the question: Why is it such a rarity that parents and in-laws would get together with their kids? There are the simple answers, like geography, busy schedules and tradition, but that’s not the whole story. If you think about it, it’s sort of strange that it’s strange – you know what I mean? This couple had a kid and the other couple had a kid, then those two kids met and fell in love and had more kids. That’s the creation of an extended family in a nutshell, yet we (Americans?) tend not to view it this way.
Mind you, I’m speaking as someone who is fiercely close with my immediate family and took a while to arrive at the realization that my “family” had changed when I got married. My mother- and father-in-law are members of my family. Period. And I’m glad they are. The fact that we now celebrate this, the biggest of holidays, together, helps strengthen the forged family bond and reinforces this larger notion of family for our children from the very start.
I can’t finish this post without acknowledging that family dynamics are complicated as hell – that will remain true until the end of time. But I firmly believe that most families could figure this one out if they really wanted to. Before deciding that it could never work with your particular set of people, try giving them the benefit of the doubt if it’s something that would make your life easier in the long run. Trust your parents (or encourage them) to be the adults that they are and step up to make the holiday work out for you and your kids. If there’s some grandparental competition for grandkids’ attention, let them deal with it. Maybe one big battle royale at the first holiday mash-up would be all that’s required to settle their petty, selfish issues for good.