The second debt of Christmas is to your immediate family. There are so many things that pull on you during the holidays and you have to develop family ground rules to deal with those issues. These are general rules on behavior, which I am sure you already have in some form. Once you determine what they are, you have to decide if they are working for your family. These rules are constantly re-negotiated, but if you see them as common rules of engagement, and they have to be applied equally within your immediate family. They also provide the terms of engagement for both sets of parents, siblings, cousins, etc.
Are you tearing yourself up trying to get to every family event, any time you are requested? When was the last time you told your family that you just couldn’t make it. On the other hand, do you constantly look for any excuse possible to escape interaction with your own family or the in-laws? Do you spend equal amounts on everyone or do you favor one family or the other. Do you work to spend precisely the same amount of time with each family, making you more automaton than human or do you purposefully not visit or limit visit times to one side of your family? All of these issues are tough and have no simple answers, but setting family ground rules will give you a basis for discussion and understanding.
- Where are we going to spend the holidays?
- Do you alternate holidays with family members? My family has a rotation where every other year we are with each set of parents. Thus in 2014 her family has Thanksgiving and my family has Christmas. In 2015 those will be swapped.
- Can you visit them both on one holiday? For several years our families lived close enough together that over Christmas and New Years we would visit both. Those days have passed, but I still wonder if skipping Thanksgiving travel all together and doing all our travel at Christmas would be better.
- Based on your work schedule and the parental units retirement status, it may make more sense to host the holidays.
- Are we going to spend equally on our families?
- Families have different expectations and gifting habits. One family may split all costs for food, outings, eating out, etc. equally between everyone. In other families the parents may offers to pay for everything to do with your visit. It is easy to compare and contrast families, DON’T DO IT! Realize that families are different. One is not better than another, but they have different priorities and their own unique dynamics.
- A ground rule that I feel is very important is that you spend equally on everyone. You may have more family members, which would throw the numbers off, but spending should be equitable between families. So, if I budget to spend $25.00 on my sister, then I expect my spouse to spend $25.00 on her sister and vice versa.
- What day will we celebrate the holiday.
- This is always the issue of the random aunt who can’t make it on Christmas day or the guy who has to work on the 24th, so maybe you have Christmas on the 26th. You have to roll with the family where you are celebrating somewhat, but the reality is that you owe it to your immediate family to do what is best for them regardless of other influences.
- I have somewhat purposefully skipped the part about what you will teach your kids about the celebration of various holidays. If you are part of a family with a amalgam of religious beliefs, it is important to decide how you will handle holidays. That is such a big issue that it would be hard to write about it here and I am not a good source on that as my wife and I have similar (albeit sometimes considerably different) religious histories.
None of these discussions should be contentious, but we are human and they will be. Once you decide what is best for your immediate family, tell your other family members what you decided. They don’t get input into the decision that your immediate family makes. This is one area where parents have to lead. You can listen to your parents or grandparents or siblings input, but always do what is best for your family in the end.
On the third day of Christmas we learned how to reduce the stress of the holidays through planning, saving and implementing a holiday budget. Read more: ‘On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me…one million dollars’.