On December 16th 2011, my fiancé and I moved into our very first place together. He had been living on his own since he was 16, but I was moving out of my parents’ house, and we were both excited at the prospect of spending a wonderful Christmas together, in our new home.
My parents were going abroad for Christmas, taking my two younger siblings with them, which meant it was also going to be the first Christmas I had spent away from my immediate family.
I was very excited by everything in a new home, decorating it myself, doing the Christmas dinner for the two of us, and starting new traditions with my fiancé.
Because it was such a big deal for me, being away from home and family, we agreed to have a small, cozy Christmas, just the two of us, though we would visit fiance’s family briefly to exchange gifts. Despite living away from his family, my fiancé would usually spend Christmas eve at his parents, sleep there, then spend the day with them. Because he knew that it might ruffle some feathers, my fiancé let his mum know what we were planning, and she was even there while my fiancé bought the meat for our Christmas stew. (I wasn’t about to make an entire roast dinner for two people, and neither of us like turkey.)
Come Christmas Day everything was going really well. We had a brilliant morning, and loads of fun incorporating a mix of both our family’s traditions, and making up our own.
About one o clock in the afternoon, as previously arranged, we visited my fiance’s family. They only live half an hour away, but me and my fiancé both ride motorcycles, and the day was very cold, wet and windy. Usually, it would be the kind of day that we wouldn’t risk going out on but, as it was Christmas, we wanted to go and see everyone and give them their gifts. Fiancé rang ahead to let his family know that we would be heading down but, as the weather was bad, we would only stay for an hour before heading back before the weather got worse.
When we arrived at his family’s house, we were made welcome, offered drinks and settled down to exchange gifts. Everything was wonderful, until my fiance’s mum asked what vegetables I wanted with my lunch.
Fiance reminded his mum that we weren’t staying for lunch and that we had our lunch waiting for us when we got home. That’s when things erupted into madness.
His mum and his two brothers started shouting and swearing at my fiancé, telling him that he had ruined Christmas for everyone. Fiancé reminded them that he had told them ages ago what we were planning, but this was met with, ‘I didn’t think you would actually go through with it! You always spend Christmas here! How can you stand to do this to your own family?!’
His grandmother informed me that, because I was only making stew, we could have that tomorrow and to stop being so selfish. While fiancé was explaining to his brother that I had given up a holiday with my family so we could spend it together, his mother turned to me and said, ‘Do you feel bad yet?’
The icing on the cake was when fiance’s younger brother said, ‘We all know you’d be here if it wasn’t for her.’
At which point my fiancé told me to collect my things, and we both left immediately.
To my fiance’s credit, he stood up for me, and later rang his mother to inform her that she, and the rest of the family, were out of order, and that it was totally unacceptable. I’m happy to say that his mother and grandmother have since apologized (citing excessive alcohol consumption as a main reason for the family’s outburst) and we have built a good relationship, and his younger brother has learned that we will not stand for any of his attitude, and so is extremely polite when we see him.
This year I am going to my parents’ house, while he goes to his – under the clear understanding that next year we will be spending Christmas together as a married couple, on our own. 1203-12
So, the family tantrum worked. They now know that a display of drama will yield the results they want, i.e. eldest son home on Christmas Day even if means you two are separated. When you carry through with your stated plan to spend Christmas together as a married couple next year, will it come as a surprise if the family howls, “We didn’t think you would actually do it!”? No doubt about it, your in-laws won this skirmish and you think you won because you wagged a stern finger at them.
It is hard for a family to readjust to the new relationship dynamics when the first adult child either moves away from home or becomes involved with a lover who will eventually become an in-law. There isn’t a lot of literature out there preparing parents and siblings for the shift of priorities that necessarily must occur when the first child or siblings gets married. Children grow up and become independent adults (one hopes) and that means new families, new traditions and a different way of interacting with the original, nuclear family. Some families have a very difficult time adjusting to the new reality but adjust they must if a new status quo is to come about. You’ve just delayed the inevitable.