As our kids and I stood in the Lubbock airport and watch mommy go through security, I am struck by the difference that almost ten years of marriage makes. She is going to visit her family that is in need of her company at a time when she needs some time to slow down and enjoy the journey. She needs to go on her own.
Its a bit of a trip back in time whenever we visit family, never more so than when we do it on our own. Old family dynamics come to life and it may seem like a moment that you are back in your childhood and adolescence with all the good and bad. My wife and I chose nine years ago to travel this life together hand in hand, not cuffed together. Last year I spent three weeks studying Spanish in Mexico and she stayed home and this holiday season she is going to visit family while I take care of the kids.
Freedom. Something that we all value so much, as humans and particularly as Americans. For our early life we are required to obey the rules of our parents, their house rules and to listen respectfully as our grandparents, aunts, uncles and all sorts of other folks like teacher, coaches and preachers give us advice. This continues until we go to college and all those years of fighting for our freedom and often rebelling against all of our social constraints. In my life this came to a head in college where I had to combine work, parental support and financial aid to get through college. Some of my best friendships were developed during these formative years. I found myself and learned how to behave in groups that were not my family. It was a great experience.
Following college, I had several years of bachelorhood. I had some roommates to help with the bills, but I was free to do what I wanted, when I wanted. This continued through a variety of relationships and the moment I felt any relationship was tying me down it ended abruptly. Freedom and independence was the rule of the day and I reveled during that time.
Then I met my future wife. Once we walked down the aisle, like most newlyweds, we had a honeymoon and settled into our new life. Where we were joined at the hip, especially when it came to travel and holidays. If one of us was spending a week with our parents, both of us were doing that. Then we had kids and the time that we needed to spend with family and that family chose to spend with us inexplicably went up. Now, this can be a bit daunting when you consider that both myself and my wife were only a few years earlier completely footloose and fancy free. In my family when we are together there are a variety of tasks to do and outings to take. We work on something, clean up or clear out something, go shooting, drives in the country, whatever…not all families have outings during the holidays. They may only leave the house when absolutely necessary or during planned family excursions. This leaves little time for our individual moments to clear our thoughts.
The real breakthrough comes when you realize that while you are partners, there isn’t an iron clad rule that you have to go everywhere together. My wife can visit her family without me and I can do the same without her. Neither family should take offense. As my wife and I came to realize after we stopped going on all family visits together, it more closely re-enacts our old family dynamic and makes folks more comfortable. Its not to say that everyone doesn’t enjoy the in-laws, but there is something to say for allowing the original family dynamic to continue to exist in its own form. Let me fight with my siblings and you can fight with your sisters…its really none of the spouses business.
Freedom is important. Don’t feel obligated to spend every vacation with the in-laws. Equally, if they come to visit, take a day or two to do something on your own. In the end everyone will have a better time. Parents get to talk to their kid without the spouse there and the spouse gets a vacation as well.
Enjoy time with your family as a whole…and don’t feel guilty when you need time alone or time with the family of your childhood. Freedom is a good thing!