The holidays are stressful for everyone. But for young couples they pose an extra layer of challenges.
These newest relationships are at the bottom of the familial totem pole. They therefore feel as if they must cater to the demands of their elder relatives, regardless of the imposition on their own lives and growing families.
This may mean Christmas Eve dinner with his folks, opening presents Christmas morning with hers, Christmas supper with the aunts and uncles in another zip code. If folks have divorced and remarried, or aren’t on good speaking terms, the number of commitments grows logarithmically.
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Young children compound the problem. Long hours in the car, missed naps and over-stimulation turn normally cheery tots into pint-sized hellions. Harried parents scurry to control their babies’ outbursts. All joy goes up the chimney in smoke.
Young couples feel duty-bound to make the rounds. They admirably want to please Mom and Dad. They worry that any attention directed toward themselves will be perceived as selfish. Plus, they long to rekindle their own childhood memories, to do things the way “we’ve always done them in the past.”
Parents can pile on the guilt: “Oh, we’d be so disappointed if you didn’t come and stay with us.” Or “It’s not Christmas unless we’re all together.”
But young couples are at a new stage in their lives. They’re no longer little kids living at home. They’re adults with spouses and children of their own.
Now is the time for them to take a stand, to establish their own traditions and to decide as a family how they’ll celebrate the holidays.
It doesn’t mean they turn their backs on parents and siblings. Those folks will always hold an invaluable space in their hearts and lives. Rather, they should honor their newest role as adults, spouses and parents, and decide what’s best for them.
Linda Lewis Griffith’s column in special to the Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.
Holiday tips for young couples
- Honestly assess how you’d like to celebrate the holidays. Your clarity will help others buy into the plan.
- Present your decisions as a couple. If there’s conflict between the two of you, it will undermine the outcome.
- Let go of guilt. Stop worrying about pleasing your parents. Now is the time to put your own needs front and center.
- Be creative. Think outside the box. Consider new ways and times for celebrating that ease your stress levels.
- Establish your own traditions. Make new Christmas stockings for you and your children. Cut your own tree. Make gingerbread houses with all the cousins.
- Be inclusive. Host or attend at least one gathering that involves all generations.
- Be flexible. Abilities and interests can change abruptly from year to year. Adapt activities to accommodate everyone’s needs.
- Be kind. Change isn’t always easy. Your steps toward adulthood may trigger sadness or resistance from others. Sweetly explain your allegiance for your own, new family. Then express your undying love and appreciation for your original clan.