Growing up, I was one of those annoyingly cheerful Christmas enthusiasts. Then I got married. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nowhere and no one in the world I’d rather be spending my holidays with aside from my husband. He’s loving, kind and big on cheesy, themed cheer just like me. But splitting up the festive season in a yearly dance in order to make both our families happy is a nightmare. Not to mention the fact that, try as I might, I absolutely cannot get excited to spend time with his family.
It started at our first Easter. Even though we were dating and I wanted to spend the holiday with my family, I caved and went to dinner with his because I wanted to show I was committed to the relationship. Needless to say, despite his mum’s awareness of my food allergies, there was not a single dish I could eat safely. I spent the night nursing a glass of red wine and sneaking bites of a muesli bar I had packed in my handbag ahead of time. We ordered Chinese as soon as we got home.
Sadly for me and my stomach, the past several years have been the same way. I finally smartened up and started “contributing” some dishes to the spread, but I’m always greeted with a raised eyebrow and a tsk-tsk as if it’s rude to do so at her gathering.
Christmas is my parents’ big holiday and as well us us they welcome my husband’s family into their home. Without fail, his mother says something inappropriate or hurtful to at least one guest during the meal. She’s also been known to pick little fights with my mum like criticising her choice of serving dishes or griping about the fact that the family dog is always underfoot in the kitchen. Then my hubby and I always end up picking sides with our own mums…or get stuck listening to them complain about each other when we should be enjoying booze and dessert.
If we only had to suffer through a meal or two with them, it would be fine. But it goes way beyond that. At this time of year, my husband’s family always acts like they own our weekends. Our daughter’s birthday coincides with the festive season, so they’re already arguing about who gets to spend time with her when and what’s fair and what’s not.
Then there’s the holiday shopping and parties. For some reason I’m always dragged along with his relatives when I’d rather be spending the weekend with my own. In general, I don’t resent the idea of having my in-laws around for the visit to Santa or the selection of my family’s tree. But there is never a weekend between Halloween and New Year’s that we don’t seem to have some item on the agenda that includes my hubby’s family; for once, I’d like to carve out some plain old relaxation with just our little brood.
Throughout the year, I can only take my in-laws in small doses. They’re rude and inconsiderate, and known to make constant disparaging remarks about other people. No topic is off-limits from finances to weight gain. It’s just exhausting. My hubby and I are not the type to talk negatively about others like that, and I hate when it goes on in front of our daughter.
Furthermore, I’ve been the target on more than one occasion. I’ll never forget the year we arrived at their home at Easter and my mother-in-law pointedly waited until my then-fiance was out of the room to tell me I looked like I’d gained weight. More recently, I was chastised for wearing a dress that was “too short” for a mother to wear. I’ve also faced criticism for what I contribute to the household income, even though my husband and I are very tight-lipped about our finances and no one knows the full picture except for us. So, I always go in feeling defensive before we’ve even begun.
I wish that I could clutch my red coffee cup and make footprint crafts with my daughter and her little cousins while riding away into the sunset horizon on a glittery sleigh filled with familial cheer. But truth be told, the tug-of-war over family time slots and pending drama is hanging heavy already and thanks to my in-laws, I’m dreading the holidays.
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