Blending Families (And Building Your Baby Family)

After yesterday’s beautiful graduate post where Brianne talked about learning that her wedding was deeply important and emotional for her mom, and what that meant for her as a bride, I thought it was an excellent time to dig this blending families question out of my mailbag. As always with Ask Meg posts, the answer is partly for Jen, and partly for all of you (with thanks to Jen for kicking off the discussion).

Dear Meg,

With all the talk of birthing new mini families and coming together as a new unit, I never realized quite how hard that could be.  My fiance and I are a great couple and I have no worries that we’ll be able to handle whatever marriage brings our way.  What I am worried about, however, is the joining of our two families.


Most of what I’ve read involving in-laws and such relates to reprehensible behavior, usually from mother-in-laws.  Well my story doesn’t involve that – my future mother-in-law has been nothing but welcoming to me.  She’s great, but she’s just not my mom, you know?  This particular problem comes in with my own parents and their sensitivities – just tonight I’ve had yet another crying, “I don’t know what to say” conversation with my parents.  Their biggest worry is that I’ll completely leave them and go off with my fiance’s family.  (The context is that my partner and I were dating “only” a year before getting engaged and it definitely took my parents by surprise – and for two people who HATE surprises, the transition has been quite tough for them.  Add to that a future in-law family that loves to get together almost every weekend, they worry they’ll never see me after we get married.)


I would never let that happen.  I love my family – Mom, Dad and older sister – and couldn’t imagine them not being in my life.  The core of the problem seems to be a perception issue.  I cannot for the life of me get them to see that both my fiance and I love them and will see them as often as we possibly can.  I for sure can’t convince them that my fiance likes them and wants to spend time with them.  I’ve tried the “actions speak louder than words” technique, but that never seems to work out for an extended time period.

It’s hard because we’re not married yet and I still definitely feel more of a connection to my own family and I’m sure he still feels more connected to his own.  And to be honest, it’ll probably always be that way.  You feel more loyal to where you came from than this new family you might not know as well.  I can’t get him to understand how my family is – I don’t want to overwhelm him and have our married relationship start out negatively.


Any thoughts or pieces of advice?  I’m so excited for our future and am scared that this will always hang over our heads.  It may be an irresolvable issue, but just learning how to cope with it would just be wonderful.


My first reaction when I read this letter was, “MAN! Jen is totally lucky.” Which sounds crazy, right? But here is the thing: I get a LOT of mail, and I think half of the family drama around weddings has its root in, “I’m scared I’m loosing you.” Half the time when a mom is screaming, “But I don’t understand! The pink flowers are so much PRETTIER and also why are you doing the flowers yourself what a disaster and d*mn it I said we should go with this florist and I’d pay and I think this centerpiece idea is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen and I said I liked the PINK flowers,” what she’s really saying is, “You’ve always been my daughter and our family has always been your first family, and now you’re getting married and you’re going to have your own family, and I’m excited for you and I love your fiance but I’m scared and this is hard. At least the flowers are a concrete thing to fight about.”

I mean, come on. You didn’t really think brides were the only ones with the rambling and emotional interior monologues, did you?So. What advice do I have? First, I’d say, it’s not an irresolvable issue, but it’s going to take time. In some ways, when parents freak out about the huge family transition going on during the engagement, parents are right on the money. They have, after all, been through this before. They’ve seen what is to come, which is a gentle and slow re-aligning of how you define the term “my family.” Which is to say, starting a baby family is hard for everyone, but starting a baby family is also why weddings are so explosively joyous.

Your parents want to see you happy, they are just a little scared and sad right now. And happy. So that’s complicated for them. But at least they are in-touch with their feelings enough that they are telling you that, instead of telling you, “But you need to get the ball gown wedding dress with the sparkles, that’s what I’ve always imagined you in, that’s the one that makes me happy, I hate this sleek minimalist dress you bought, waaaaaaahhhh.” (Though they might say that in the future too.)

So. Let your parents help. Give them jobs and tell them to run with it. Start showing by example that while your life (and wedding) is now focused on you and your partner, your life (and wedding) still very much includes them, and that you want them to have an active part in it. Give them programs to design, or a menu to plan. Tell them you trust their judgement. Call them and chat with them about it. And realize this is a complicated transition. You have a few months to fight over centerpeices, which is training for fighting over where you’re going to spend the holidays.

As for you and your husband, this is part of the learning curve. This is part of the grunt work of making a family. Because TRUST me, this is not the first time you’re going to be freaking out saying things like, “I’m so mad at them!” or “Why is my family acting all crazy?” And he’s going to take his turn at that game too. So, consider this practice. Consider this part of building something real. The upside your parents haven’t seen yet is that now you can yell, “MY MOM IS MAKING ME CRAZY” at your partner instead of yelling it at your mom. There, they definitely win.

I’m not telling you it’s going to get easy any time soon, but I am telling you that your parents are sane, you and your fiance are doing the real and difficult work of becoming a family, and that all of this will be worth it in the end.

Pinky swear.


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  • It’s interesting that she brought this up, especially since I’m sure MANY people have similar problems. For myself, my family lives across the country, while his lives only a few hours away, and are moving closer. Oddly, enough, this is something that I’M having a hard time with. I love my family, even more since my mom passed away almost two years ago, and it’s hard having them so far away. And while I love my fiance’s family, I don’t want to get too close and have my family think that I’ve forgotten about them since they live so far away.

    Family making takes adjustment, so I guess it’s really just one step and one day at a time.


    • I struggle with the same thing. (Although my in-laws are 6 hours away.) I don’t want my family to think I’ve left them for a better family. And you’re right, Paige. One day at a time.

    • Can I “exactly” this out loud?! My family and I have always been super tight (and always will be), but they live 2200 miles away. His live on the same property. My family is cool with this because they know I’ll never leave (I’ve lived far away from them for 7 years and cherished them regardless) but I throw a fit inside of myself at least once a month (it’s NOFE AIR!).

  • caitlin

    I so badly needed to hear this today. Several of these issues are ones that my new baby family also struggles with… although it’s somewhat reversed. Meg– your words are music to my ears.

    I love APW for helping me realize that marriage can be messy and tough and involve struggling– and it’s still GOOD. Posts like this are why it’s the only wedding blog I keep reading! Cheers to APW! :)

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    Yay! Good question, thx Meg and Jen!

    I haven’t gotten this as much from my own family, but Husband’s mother has a quiet desperation about her, like she’s losing the last of her children. (Husband’s three brothers are all married to headstrong women who live nearer to their parents than Husband’s parents. Mother in law is not totally unjustified in her concern. In the last 8 years since her boys started marrying off, she hasn’t gotten a single holiday with all four boys in one place.)

    We’ve only been married two months, but so far we’ve handled things the following way.

    1) Hibernation period, 1 month. After the wedding, we hid from our families for a month, no visits and not more than one phone call a week. This gave us time to think about what we wanted our new family to be like.

    2) Equitable visits. After hibernation, each family got a weekend visit. It was a quick weekend but it was a gesture, that we were willing to make those quick trips just to see them.

    3) Start planning the holidays early. We’re already in planning phase for Christmas and we’re considering hosting Thanksgiving and inviting both sets of parents. It’s all *our* family now and we want to treat it that way.

    Good luck Jen!! and Love to all the baby families :)

    • Oh Abby! We’re trying to do a joint Thanksgiving too! I’m a little nervous though… I love that you said you’re treating it as OUR family. I think getting in the right mindset helps a lot.

      Are both sets of parents far away? How are your organizing your holiday dinner? We’re already talking about holidays too… but Hannukah and Christmas present another issue…

      My parents are divorced so I already split holidays between two families and my FIL’s birthday is December 25th. I really hate having to pick and choose, but that’s what I’m feeling forced to do…

      • Amy

        Angie and Abby, on the subject of the blended Thanksgiving, do either of you have sets of siblings? My husband and I are moving into our first house next month (!!) and would love to have Thanksgiving at our place, which is about six hours away from both sets of parents. Because of the distance, coming up to our home is an either/or proposition, and I’m a little concerned that there would be some resentment from siblings who couldn’t make the trip or from their in-laws who missed out on a holiday.

        I don’t remember much family stress around the wedding at all (fully acknowledging that the endorphins of the day could have blocked some out), but living so far away from both families makes me feel like the toy being fought over during the holidays. I know that a lot of the stress comes from my efforts to be scrupulously fair and I’m hoping that taking some of the hosting duties will be a way to put our new family first.

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          I have one sister (who lives near my parents) and Husband has 3 brothers (who live all over). Usually his parents travel to one of the brothers for Thanksgiving, but they never all get together. We’ll probably offer to host for all siblings, but my guess is that my sister and her bf will be the only one to consider it, and they may opt not to travel and to spend the holiday with her bf’s family.

          I’ll be happy if all the parents come and totally overwhelmed if more than one sibling comes. But that will be fun in it’s own way :)

        • Morgan

          Also, a wedding is a one off, but holidays happen every year, and precedence matters. Most people will try to be accommodating for your wedding, but ‘damn it, we always have dinner at your aunt’s on Christmas day – what do you mean you won’t be there’, or whatever your particular tradition is. Because it happens every year, people seem way more willing to go to the mat for it.

          • Which totally makes no sense to me! If it happens every year, then we can do that next year instead!
            When I mentioned to FMIL that I wanted to spend this Christmas with my brother and niece for the first time since she was born, FMIL went off about how she hadnt spent Christmas with her siblings in 20-some years. Yet she was trying to demand we come to her house and spend Christmas with FHs siblings this year…
            Yet she couldnt see the hypocrisy! So we are having Christmas at home this year now most likely. Its just easier!

        • My husband and I each have two younger siblings. Both my brother and sister live at home. My husband’s (sorry, it feels so new I’m using every chance I can so say it!) sister is about 45 minutes away, but his brother is in Louisville. He’ll probably fly up for the holiday since he’ll be on break.

          So at least three of the four can come. It would be great if we got all four siblings and all four parents to be there.

    • I really like the idea of a “hibernation period” after the wedding. especially since there will be SO MUCH family time prior and during the wedding.

      In my family, the wife’s family usually takes precedence over the husbands for holidays. I never thought it was weird until I left my community for University (maybe it’s a French-Acadian thing?).

      In any case, I’m adjusting to the idea of “sharing” even though I completely believe it’s fair that way. His family is terrible at travelling and live an entire province away, while mine is only 3 hours and should easily be able to travel up to visit.

      So far, in the past four years we’ve been together, we have visited my family for most “lesser” (if you can call that) Catholic holidays (even though Andrew and I are not Christian…), and each to our own families during Christmas (with visits each afterwards).

      We’ll probably continue something similar until we have our own child. Just because it’s fine to travel without children, but in our families we’ll only really be considered a “unit” once we have our own child.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Hibernation was sooooo relaxing. I’m close with my mom and sis and usually talk to each of them 3-4 times a week. It isn’t stressful per se, but it’s a lot to keep up with and often involves a lot of advice-giving and receiving. I think it’s a bigger emotional drain than I realized. Even though I was back to working 50 hours a week after our honeymoon, the whole month felt like a vacation.

        Plus it was a nice solid demarcation – when mom calls, she isn’t just calling her single daughter, she’s calling *our* home. She started insisting I put the phone on speaker now so she can talk to both of us (though usually after about 5 minutes Husband just flees to another room for some quiet).

        • Erin

          Those “house calls” are really important, and I’m trying to figure out how to do something similar with my new in-laws (and encourage my husband to do the same). I remember my parents using two house phones to talk with their parents at the same time, but it’s a lot harder when most conversations happen over cell phones these days. Any suggestions?

          • abby_wan_kenobi

            My cell phone has speakerphone. My mom and I will both put our phones on speaker and in no time my new hubby and I are talking to both my parents, my sis and her bf. Sis and bf started doing a weekly family dinner with my parent’s about a year ago and now they call us after dinner most weeks and it’s like we get to join in. I think this annoys both of our SO’s but being annoyed is part of being in our family :)

          • Amy

            We use a lot of video chatting with gmail and skype instead of phone calls now. I really love that I can play peekaboo with my niece or see my mom’s latest knitting project.

          • I feel strongly about having a landline, for this reason. My fiance and I don’t live together yet, but when we do, and certainly after we’re married, I really want to have a landline. Otherwise, it seems, we’ll be in a situation where my parents call ME and his parents call HIM. And that’s certainly appropriate in certain situations, but when, say, my parents are inviting US over for dinner, I want there to be a place where they can call US and have the opportunity to have either one of us pick up the phone. I don’t know whether it will be easy to enforce, and convince people to call a house phone when everyone’s been using cell phones for so long, but I’d like to try.

          • skype is great! my SIL was in Israel for a year and besides the time difference being a little inconvenient, it worked well.

          • you know, I never thought about putting the phone on speaker to emphasize that they’re talking to both of us. That actually might really be helpful in getting both sets of parents to think of us as more of a unit, without being overtly obvious about it. I’ll have to chat with Andrew about this idea- thanks!!

    • meg

      All of this is so smart.

      We do joint Thanksgivings, but we do them with David’s extended family. I don’t have much of an extended family so they just folded my parents in. It’s mostly good, but we’re powering towards doing a holiday at OUR place some day soon.

      • The other day, I was talking to my mom about something cooking related and she suggested I use my “roasting pan.” I said, “I don’t have a roasting pan.” She wanted to know how this was possible, to which I responded, “Because we’re always at your house for Thanksgiving.”

        I did host Thanksgiving dinner once early on in my former marriage. Between my mom, his mom, his two grandmas and my aunt, someone was constantly checking the turkey. They did it so much that the turkey took an extra four hours (!) to cook. After we took the turkey out of the oven, my mom and my former mother-in-law argued over how to make the gravy, then my former MIL proceeded to peel all of the pretty yummy browned skin off the turkey before it was served because skin is not healthy. On their way out, my ex’s grandfather told me the food tasted good, but I should have let the turkey brown.

        These days, my ex and I rotate holidays. On the years when I don’t have the kids for Thanksgiving day, we do a small just-the-four-of-us Thankskgiving dinner the week before. These are my favorite holidays because there is no pressure to be anywhere or please everyone.

    • Holy cannoli, I need to print your comment out and show it to my fiance. I’m not kidding. He is the youngest of four, and his three older siblings are pretty separated from his parents. The oldest has a “headstrong” (we usually use stronger words, but that’ll do) wife who has been consistently rude to my future mother-in-law, and they rarely see each other. The other two siblings live far away, and aren’t emotionally all that close with my future in-laws. Meanwhile, my fiance is VERY close with both his parents (his father will be his Best Man for our wedding). We’ve done everything we can to show how much we love them and how we’ll stay close with them, so I’m hoping she has faith in us.

      Your post-wedding points (hibernation, equitable visits, holiday planning) are brilliant. Honesty, communication, and equality are going to be very key in the coming months as we start building our own family. Thank you so much for the awesome advice!

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Hee. I’m glad you like. Husband’s sisters in law are each “the boss”. They all live near their own families and have little chilluns so they don’t make much effort to travel. Husband and I have tried to be accommodating (because we don’t have kids and have the resources to travel a bit) but at some point you wish someone else would pitch in. My mother in law gets positively teary-eyed at the thought of her family all in one place but it has only happened twice in the six years I’ve known them – one wedding and one funeral.

        We do what we can.

    • sarah

      As a daughter of parents who have been divorced since I was very young, just hearing the phrase “equitable visits” makes me get tense. For my entire life I have been stressed out about equity when it comes to quality time. On the one hand, I’m super lucky: both of my parents are wonderful people and have wonderful extended families that love spending time with me. On the other hand, having to constantly worry about equity has been a gigantic stressor in my life ever since I was a little girl.

      Now, I’ve married someone who is also a daughter of divorce. We’ve just bought a house in Seattle, which is her hometown and is place that we want to settle down and raise our someday children. Her father lives here and although her mother lives overseas at the moment, we think this is where she’ll settle down in her retirement. HOWEVER, both of my parents live 3000 miles away. I don’t even know how to begin to think about equity — especially when we have children and airfare for all of us will be prohibitive.

      All that stress that I’ve felt all my life as quadrupled.

  • Oh, Jen… you are singing my song. My MIL has had the “I’m scared I’m going to lose you” talk with my husband. (We are creeping up on our 2 year dating anniversary and are on our 10th day of marriage.) There was A LOT of drama with my MIL pre-wedding: guest list issues, money, not visiting them, etc. His family is 6 hours away and mine is 45minutes to an hour. So of course, there are already issues there. My family is also very important to me. I am the oldest of three, daughter of a single mother, and a semi-parent to my own father. My grandparents are getting older and my culture/up-bringing causes me to feel like I need to take care of them. My husband is more independent of his family. He left for school at 18 and hasn’t stayed at his parents house for more than 4-5 days since then. His brother and sister went through their teenage transitions while he was away. Our relationships with our families are much different.

    A lot of the effort to keep connected to our families comes from me. My husband (Eeeeeeee!!!!!!) is very bad at keeping in touch with people. So I try to remind him to call his siblings and inform him of their recent happenings. Facebook is a great tool and sending thoughtful cards always helps. I also schedule day visits to see my family. (I’ve definitely taken on that role of event planner and now family connector.) It’s not easy. I have two siblings of my own that I try so hard to keep in touch with.

    For me, I expected our parents to not be best friends. Mine are ten years younger, divorced and live a completely different life than his parents. His have been together for 26 years, are well to do and older. Our siblings, on the other hand, were the ones I hoped would hit it off. Our brothers are both 19 and our sisters are both 22. BUT. They are not alike at all. At times, I feel like his family thinks they’re better than mine… and that hurts. Issues with class and education opportunities come up a lot between us. So I’m still working on that….

    Before I sign off… a lot of my concerns about being a blended family (religion/culture/class issues) were somewhat resolved/taken care of at our rehearsal luncheon. Parents met and chatted a bit. Although it wasn’t perfect, they were able to bond a bit because of my husband and me. Have your parents and in-laws met yet? If you can schedule a dinner or something, that might be helpful.

    We’re also trying to organize a blended family Thanksgiving dinner at our house. It will be tough and we might be too optimistic, but it’s worth a try.

    I’m still learning how to be a blended family, myself. So if you ever want to talk or share ideas, etc. feel free to email me at onecatperperson [at] gmail [dot] com.

    • I am very tempted to do a blended family Thanksgiving, but that will absolutely have to wait until we have enough room– our tiny apartment can’t hold 40 people for dinner just yet! Big (local, extended) families are a real pain….

      • Tell me about it! We have a big living room compared to other apartments we’ve seen, but we’re not sure how it will accommodate even 10 of us!

  • Sarah M

    So far in our dating life, the fiance and I have had it pretty easy. His parents are super laid back about holidays/hanging out while mine are of the “let’s have Sunday dinners as often as possible” and “all holiday traditions are set in stone” variety. My family (2 brothers, me, parents) are pretty much obsessed with family dinners. We see each other as often as possible. My fiance on the other hand is not super close with his mom and step dad, sister or stepbrother.

    I feel guilty that we don’t see my fiance’s family as much (both families live in the same city as us) but then I think that it’s not MY responsibility to make these plans with his parents. I know we are a team in this thing, and sometimes I suggest that perhaps we haven’t seen his parents in a while and should organize something, but in the end, they are HIS parents and if he doesn’t care to plan something, then why should I?

    The only thing this lack of spending time with his parents does is makes it difficult for me to cultivate a really strong bond with them. It’s not that we don’t get along, we do. But I’ve noticed in this wedding planning thing that I don’t know how to involve his mother. I don’t know what she is interested in participating in. I’ve talked to her about it and I went dress shopping with her but since we aren’t particularly close I don’t know how much she wants to be involved.

    And just thinking about what will happen to family dinners/holidays once my brothers and I start having kids (oldest brother is married already) makes me want to cry. It’s a scary thing thinking about changing traditions. Even at 29, 28, and 26 my brothers and I and our SO’s are all at my parents house by 730 on Christmas morning to open presents as a family. Our traditions are so important to us, it’s going to be a tough adjustment for everyone once there are kids in the picture and things start changing.

  • Vmed

    Um when I grew up my parents drove 14 hours to do thanksgiving with my dad’s people and 40 hours to do christmas with my mom’s people. Every other two or three years we stayed home.

    But every holiday I thought, why don’t these people ever visit us?

    Well, eventually some did. Most didn’t. The thing that sometimes made me angry as a kid was that when we did do the trip, our extended family would berate us for not coming the year before. I’m sure it was meant as friendly teasing, but I resented the guilt trip. I think it hurt my parents, too. (Now I just think, don’t you know anything about positive reinforcement?)

    My parents eventually established a 4th of July cookout tradition, and it’s comforting that I can point to that holiday as something my nuclear family does. Everything else is negotiable.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I understand exactly how that feels. My family lived 6-8 hours from our extended family while I was growing up and we went to every Christmas, Easter, wedding, graduation party, christening, and family reunion. I think we averaged a trip every 3 weeks my entire childhood. These events were never hosted at my family’s place (with the exception of my sister’s and my graduations and my wedding).

      When I went away to college an additional 12 hours away I was strongly chastised for missing 1-yr-old brithday parties and a few holidays. Nevermind the expense or the fact that the Christmas festivities *always* coincided with my finals. I was not a team player.

      I think all you can do is try to establish a better precedent for the family you are forming. I’ll offer to host events and attend as many as possible, but I’ll never fault someone for not making a long (and pricey and inconvenient) trip.

  • I can definitely relate – though it’s a bit reversed. My in-laws live across the ocean in a different country – even before I came into the picture, my fiance only saw them about once a year. I met them for the first time this past Christmas when we went “back home” for the holidays, and this is also when we got engaged (after only 10 months of dating). He had told them ahead of time he was going to be asking, and we hit it off instantly but I can only imagine how nervous they must have been for us to land, get off the plane, meet me – hope to like me, and then accept me as the daughter in law to be!

    On the other side, the majority of my siblings and close family live within an hour of us. However, through time, different pieces of my family (mainly my sister and me) have lived all over so our family is a bit use to “skipping” holidays or thinking outside the box in terms of getting together (Thanksgiving in Italy anyone?). But yes, we see some part of my family probably once a month or once every 6 weeks whereas we won’t see his parents again until this December – when they come here for the wedding!

    The issue has definitely come up from his side, how disconnected they feel sometimes, with so much of our life charging full steam ahead here, state-side while they live their lives over in Scotland. I know it’s been hard for his mom especially, and so I chose to overcommunicate- sending lots of photos of our venues, my dress, skyping about our invitations, ideas, and asking for her help on the things she can do from there. It also is a big help that we’ll do a marriage celebration #2 next summer over in Scotland which I fully intend to relinquish all planning duties to my in-laws (not only is it easier but I may go insane planning so many functions!)

    Fortunately, we’ll also spend this Christmas, after the wedding, with his in-laws, my sister and my aunt on vacation for a week. At this point it seems like both sides really want to get to know each other and “share” their time with us – I am just nervous going down the road and how to make sure we really keep his parents connected with so many miles (and water!) between us!

    • I think you have a special case, Suzanne. With the in-laws already having Marvv so far away, I’m sure they’ve already created something that works for them. And spending the holiday with them right after the wedding is going to be great too!

      p.s. Just saw pics of the venue!!!!! AMAZING!

    • Amandover

      Oh, Suzanne, I am totally with you, and now I think maybe some overcommunication is due on my part. My FH’s family is in Yorkshire, and when they heard we were engaged, let’s just say they were a little more reserved than my parents, who saw it coming a mile away. His parents had met me twice in our 8 mos. of dating, but we think they hadn’t really understood that the boy wasn’t moving back to the UK. He talks to them a couple times a week, but I think his mum would like a little more info.
      Holidays, I’m afraid, are never going to be easy, as we both have strong traditions. But that’s life!
      Thanks for the insight!

  • Roisin

    Thank you so much for this! My fiance and my family issues aren’t explosive or dramatic, but they’re there. My fiance’s parents divorced when he was young and he left home at 17, so he isn’t as close to them as I am to my (admittedly slightly overbearing, but lovely) parents. He’s very independent, and struggles to accept help/love/anything really from either his family or mine. It took a lot of persuasion to convince him that my parents really would come down and help him move house.

    I’m not sure he’s aware how much my parents like him – my mother can be a bit, er, forceful, and both she and my fiance are quite possessive over me. My dad is much easier – he took one look at simon and said ‘he seems nice, you look happy, happy days’. Also, he’s been a bit scattered about inviting me to his family things, and at first I was paranoid this was about me, but now I think it’s more to do with him not wanting to force me into things, and also his own issues with his parents. I’ve hit it off with all the family I’ve met so far though – his mum, grandparents and aunt and uncle.

    The major issue at the moment is that because his parents are divorced, he doesn’t have anywhere to spend christmas (his dad remarried and has a new family, and the SO doesn’t like to impose) and going to stay with his mum would mean Christmas with his sister, and they really don’t get on at all. I’ve repeatedly invited him to spend Christmas with my parents, but he’s quite stubborn and I can’t persuade him that they want to see him. It breaks my heart to think I might spend Christmas with my parents while he stays at home – he’s my family now, and the number 1 person I want to spend christmas with. But if I refuse to go to my parents’, they’ll be very hurt.

    *sigh*. It took me a long time to convince him that I really love him – it seems I’ll just have to keep trying with my parents. Thank you for this post; it reminded me that it’s all part of the process.

  • Oy Vay! The only experience I have with this issue is watching my mother’s reaction when my sister got married 6 years ago. I don’t have personal experience with this because my husband’s family is on the east coast and none of them came to our wedding except his mom and brother. Also they’ve never done the ‘holiday’ thing – as in my husband never had Christmas, Thanksgiving or birthdays even – so he has embraced my family during these times and has finally (after 3.5 years) learned to enjoy tthem. (He used to hate those times of the year because they were very difficult for him his entire life prior to joining our family.) So, in some ways I’m lucky that we don’t have that argument – but at the same time I am acutely aware that it is because my husband did not have a terrific childhood that we are allowed to have a drama-free in-law transition, and I would never wish that on anyone.

    Anyway – I digress — my sister: She was the oldest of 5 of us and the first to get married. Also, her husband’s family is as equally close as ours and very involved. My mom definitely had lots of “why are they spending the weekend at his parent’s again???” and still does occasionally – but things have definitely gotten better over the years. My sis & her hubs established a clear holiday pattern – doing the various holidays every other year with each family & doing Christmas Eve with his fam and Christmas day with ours.

    Either way – I think people like knowing what to expect – so maybe coming up with a clear pattern would help. Also – your mom just wants a little attention! Phone calls, hand written notes, all of these things help her to know that you care and are thinking about her. Also – in my own experience – I realize that my hubs can’t always make it home when I would like to go home so once and a while I’ll make the trip by myself & I think my parents (esp my mom) appreciate the quality one on one time we get.

    Anyways – lots of different ideas – but the main thing to know is that it’s a PROCESS… and it takes time. So take it day by day!

    And most of all – remember you are oh-so-lucky to have two amazingly loving families who want to be involved in your lives…

  • I’m lucky in that my future MIL is wonderful (we can talk about yarn!). However it’s my family that drives us crazy. My family can’t seem to plan anything until the last minute and always has drama. (He’s learning to deal with my family drama, but it’s hard for him.) Since we live about 8 or 9 hours away from everyone we have to have a plan to see everyone during Christmas vacation. His family makes plans and then I tell my family when I’ll see them (co-ordinate with my sister who also needs a plan of action). It seems to work for now. Once we have kids that will change since driving 8 hours to get to the area then driving 2 or 3 hours every day for 4 or 5 days followed with a 8 hour drive home will not be fun. (The first year I had a non-retail job we did an abbreviated version of this for thanksgiving as well. Never, ever doing both holidays like that ever again.)

  • Class of 1980

    Sometimes these issues are more or less resolved, and sometimes they really never are. My mother remarried at 45 and this was a huge issue in our family.

    She married a man with five children and she had three. Some of us were in our early twenties when they got married.

    The very first Christmas after their wedding, our family got herded into their family’s Christmas, which consisted of over 60 extended family members on his side at a huge party. Our traditional family gathering was tossed right out of the window. My brother, sister, Grandmother, and myself felt completely lost that year. We wandered from room to room among strangers.

    So, we told our mother that scene wasn’t going to work for us. We didn’t want to be absorbed by such a huge event. Our solution was to keep on having our own separate family dinner on a different night than her new husband’s family extravaganza.

    But that doesn’t mean the drama stopped. As we ourselves acquired partners, we had to add those holiday decisions into the mix. Also, my father remarried and his wife has a giant extended family.

    In our case, I don’t think our family ever found a place of total comfort. We found islands of comfort. For years, we designated Christmas Eve as our night. My siblings, my grandmother, and both sets of parents with their spouses would all get together. Then everyone had Christmas Day with their immediate family and their other set of inlaws.

    This is an area where everyone has to watch them own behavior.

    My mother is 73 now. To be honest, my mother ended up prioritizing her new husband’s family over her own, which led to some bitterness. She has spent almost three decades utterly emeshed in his family, while putting her own on the back burner. I have no idea why she did that or what she was thinking. Other than that, she is a wonderful person, so we have learned to live with the hurt and confusion.

    • Emily

      Oh Class of 1980, I feel you. The lost family traditions make the effort or sacrifice it takes to get to family holidays feel even more wrenching and compromising. But as an only child of divorce, my responsibility to my parents and my desire not lose them makes me feel the need to be there and hang on even more. “Learning to live with it” or even learning to forgive is what I’m working towards.

    • Class of 1980, you always offer a new perspective. I am the first to be married and we are (as I’ve stated in other comments/sub-comments) feeling the transitions now. I always wonder how it will look when my brother and sister start to blend with a new family.

      It’s good to keep this in mind though. Thanks for sharing.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      My grandfather remarried soon after my grandmother died and his new wife had a big local family that she wanted to spend holidays with. 15 years later it is still a big deal to get grandpa up to the family Christmas, even though this is often the only time many of us get to see him.

      It’s just hard. And it sucks, my mom and her sisters feel like they’ve been robbed of their dad for the last 15 years. Everyone really likes grandpa’s wife, she’s now been my grandmother for more than half my life, but as much as we like them, her family isn’t our family and every time there is push back it feel like rejection.


      • Class of 1980

        Same here.

        The man my mother married is really a great guy. I am grateful that he has been everything to her that my own father was not. I am also grateful that their marriage has been a wonderful experience for my mother. If soul mates exist, then that’s what they are.

        That said, it doesn’t mean everything has been easy.

        My sister gave birth to her only daughter a couple of years after our mother remarried. And then we got the shock of our lives. Our mother NEVER took on the role of grandmother at all. We never saw this coming. We didn’t think she was capable of it.

        While she was ignoring her only biological grandchild, she was spending huge amounts of time with her second husband’s family. She seemed to harbor some sort of guilt about spending time with her original family. She once said that after her only granddaughter was born, she asked her second husband if he was jealous of the baby, and he said “Yes”!

        I’ve never understood it. My niece is now 25. She admires her grandmother, but doesn’t know her well enough to be close to her.

        Combine this with my father remarrying into a large family also. But with him, we have different problems. He actually does want to spend time with us, but he has a personality disorder which has caused disruptions in our relationship. Right now, I am no longer speaking to him. My sister just resumed a relationship with him after not speaking to him for four years. My brother refuses to engage with him.

        Because dad is so crazy/difficult/selfish/explosive, none of us encourage him to visit us as much as he would like, so he usually spends most holidays with his second wife’s extended family. They aren’t crazy about him either, but they tolerate him.

        Listen, some of our families were actually “broken” before we were even born. And then we have to deal with unease for the rest of our lives. As I said, if I can even create small “islands of contentment”, then it’s an accomplishment.

        Trying for anything more than that would be like bashing my head against a wall.

        • Class of 1980

          Oh wait. Need to add that life does twist and turn. As I said, my mother hasn’t been there as much for us as for her new family. And YET, all of a sudden, she’s been making noises that indicate she misses me.

          (I’m the only one out-of-state).

          I used to only send funny birthday cards. Last year, I sent a sappy one. She e-mailed that it was a nice change. Also, for the first time ever, she said she misses me.

          Just when you get used to they way things are, it changes. ;)

          I love her very much. I can see making more of an effort to get down there to see her more often since she is reaching out . . . finally.

  • My fiance and I have been lucky enough to have been navigating the holiday-thing for ten years now. We even managed to do it when we were in high school! Since we’ve been living with our parents off and on until I graduated college, our families had very little choice but to deal with us being with one family or the other.

    The hardest holidays have been Thanksgiving and Christmas, which we’ve managed to find compromises for. My family is huge and local (aunts, uncles, cousins, all within one metro area), so Thanksgiving day gets taken over by them. We do the big turkey, football, the whole nine yards. My fiance’s family is just his parents and a couple family friends, so we have started our own tradition of doing a dinner with them the day after– it’s intimate, sweet, and just right. I am so grateful that they are willing to be flexible for us, and it gives us an entire day to devote to them. We once did dinner with MY family and dessert with HIS, but that was a nightmare (who has the energy or the room after a turkey dinner for a whole ‘nother family shindig?).

    Christmas is trickier. Right now we’ve been splitting up– I do Christmas Eve with my family (it’s a BIG deal with our church), stay overnight, and am there for the morning. My fiance does Christmas morning with his family and then comes down for dinner with mine. I’m not sure if we want to change things this year after we’re married, but I know that our families are flexible and open, which is the most important part.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I’m kind of hoping to start a New Year’s tradition with Husband’s family. My fam already dominates 4 days for Christmas (between dad’s fam and mom’s + travel). Since all of Husband’s brothers do Christmas with their wives families, I’m going to pitch the whole clan gets together for New Year’s instead. We can exchange gifts late and not fight every year for the big holiday.

      I might wait until I have more than 2 months in before I make that noise though :). Here’s hoping for flexibility.

  • Sarah Beth

    I definitely needed to hear this. My mom has been this “you love his family more than me” kick really in spite of our impending wedding.
    His family gets together together for birthdays, has annual family reunions, and celebrates every Christian or secular holiday imaginable by getting together at his grandmother’s. My family celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving together occasionally. Other times it was just my parents and I at home.
    Now my parents are divorced and my mom lives nine hours away. So holidays and visits are just a hornet’s nest all around. His family is just so close that, naturally, we’re there a lot. And it’s like pulling teeth to visit my mom and her siblings.
    It’s just ugly, and I know how Jen feels.

  • Michele

    One of the many things I love about being married, is that for the first time since I was an itty-bitty one, I feel like I HAVE a family. Not just a disparate group of literal and/or figurative strangers who I happen to be related to but never talk to, but a real, honest to goodness FAMILY. Between a mother who died young, a half-sister who’s been estranged from the family for over a decade, and an extended family that’s an afterthought, it’s been just me, my dad and my step-mom for a very, very long time. Add in the fact that I’ve lived thousands of miles away from them for all of my adult life and therefore see them once a year if we’re lucky (and we’re usually NOT lucky), and you wind up with someone like me: a person who doesn’t always understand or appreciate family as a concept or the ties the bind them together.

    So in a sense, I’m a prime example of what many parents worry about when their children marry: I HAVE adopted my husband’s family as my own in many ways.

    I do worry about the fact that we see and spend more time with his family than with mine, but that’s largely a matter of economics. My parents are poor and can’t afford to visit us more than once every other year or so, and visiting them is difficult because they don’t have enough space in their home to host us. They also both still work and have limited vacation time. My husband’s parents are much more prosperous, as well as retired, which means that with both time and money to spare, they’re able to visit us whenever they’d like.

    I haven’t seen my parents since our wedding last June, so we decided to pick up the tab to fly them out here for Thanksgiving this year, and I’m really looking forward to it.

    • Your comment is so lovely, Michele. Getting married has meant a lot of surprises…a lot of hard stuff popping up that I was not prepared for…but some of the surprises are so lovely.

      For example: I’ve been getting closer to my fiancee’s family in the months of planning…and I had this moment when I realized, “Wow. This man is going to be my dad, too. I get another dad! Two dads!” The thought filled me with such warmth and love and surprise.

      My family lives in the Midwest…my baby family and my fiancee’s family are on the East Coast. At the beginning I felt a little terrified of “disappearing” into my fiancee’s life and losing mine…just based on distance. I never thought to consider how much I was gaining…more support, more love, more complications, too, but it’s so totally worth it.

      We’ve been trading holidays each year. Christmas with mine/Thanksgiving with his. Then the next year we switch. We’ve already been planting seeds about how, when we have kids, we’ll want to stay put for the holidays. That’s a few years off, but it doesn’t hurt talking about it, now, before it becomes an issue.

    • meg

      See I feel like that in some ways (my extended family is… well… not very family like), but I feel like my new family is US.

  • Sarah

    Oh thank goodness for this discussion.

    During our planning my mother (stubborn woman that she is) and I (just as stubborn, isn’t that always the way?) butted heads over and over and over. Over tiny things even … I wanted to wear my favorite shoes, she wanted me in white shoes. She wanted potatoes at the reception, I wanted something lighter. (I should mention … she got her way with both of these … and no, despite my protesting, it did NOT kill the day. And the potatoes were totally the right choice.) It went on and on.

    But, there was very little actual FIGHTING (with one whopper of an exception 4 days out … I chalk that up to stress) … and my family was nothing but welcoming to Jon, and always supportive of us, even if the details made for disagreements.

    His family, however, was the opposite. Up until 2 weeks before the wedding they were telling him he should call it off. His father refuses to look me in the eye, or call me by name. We weren’t even sure they were going to show up to the ceremony. We’ve long since realized that this was not against me, personally, but that they were (and still are) scared to death of losing their only child.

    Something they cannot wrap their heads around is that it’s not a matter of one-over-the-other, our hearts can expand to include more people. Families grow and change … and include new members. If anything, they’re gaining, not losing.

    For the record, the day before the wedding his father was still up to his old tricks. Comments on the location, comments about our wedding party (whose tattoos were showing … HORROR!), comments to Jon about it not being a good idea. The day of the wedding he grimaced most of the time (the number of photos not-usable because of this is astounding). BUT! His mother stepped up BEAUTIFULLY. She was welcoming and friendly, and even stepped up to help with the flowers for several hours. The day of, she smiled and celebrated, and actually seemed to enjoy herself.

    So, we have hope. And each other. And that’s what matters.

    • Katelyn

      “our hearts can expand to include more people”


    • ddayporter

      Sarah, I’ve been wondering how that went for you. That’s wonderful that his mom at least was able to participate and enjoy the day, and hopefully will continue to be a bridge to his dad – maybe one day he will come around too.

      I also love that line “our hearts can expand to include more people.” :)

  • Laura

    We’ve always spent the holidays with our respective families since we’ve been together (8 years). It has worked great for us. People seem to think it’s really weird, but we are both ‘first borns’ and none of our siblings is married/involved so they don’t have other plans.

    Will we want to change that when we get married? I really do not know. But what I do know is that we’ll still be a family and we’ll still be a part of each other’s families. I think blending your family is remembering that there isn’t really a line between our family/my family/his\her family.

  • Jen

    My future in laws have some similar issues and I’ve decided that unless I scorn my own family nothing I can do will make my mother in law believe that I’m not avoiding them. She is insecure and there is nothing I can do about it. We go over there frequently and I am try to engage them more. But beyond that, if she still has jealously that we are spending too much time with my family, I cannot be concerned with that.

    Kinda sounds mean, but do your best to be a good daughter/daughter in law and let the rest be. You can’t take on their insecurities.


    • I was waiting for your comment to this post :) Always interested in how you balance this sort of thing… I haven’t spoken to my mom about it. Kind of waiting for her to bring it up first, but with the holidays coming close (And yes, I know it’s still August!) it may be a good time to start warming her up to the idea.

  • Jackie

    I always read these posts with the hope that someone else might have a situation similar to my own, but nothing else ever seems to be quite the same. My FH has four brothers in addition to his parents. While I get along with all of his brothers and are quite close to two of them, I don’t mesh well with his parents at all. There are just SO many differences. They are in their 70s (my mom is in her early 50s); they are pentecostal (My FH and I don’t practice organized religion); they believe that alcohol is the devil (my family doesn’t think it’s a party without many bottles of good wine); and so on and so on.

    In addition, his parents are not the type to show affection, tell their children they love them, or really get involved with their lives in any way. My FH (who is the only child who doesn’t still live in the town he grew up in) is really different from the rest of his family and is often hurt by their lack of expression and seeming lack of interest in his life.

    On top of it all, I have a REALLY small family. Basically, my only family is my mother and my grandmother. We have created a larger family of friends who always join us for the holidays, but I cannot imagine leaving my mother alone (as in without her only daughter). As a result, we spend every holiday with my family. In addition, my mother visits us frequently (she lives 4 hours away, his family lives 8 hours away). We typically see his parents once or twice a year on December 23rd and through about 1 p.m. on the 24th.

    I’ve thought about trying for a blended Thanksgiving, but I know his parents wouldn’t come. Furthermore, they have nothing in common with my mother and don’t really like each other much at all.

    I guess I’m not looking for advice per se. I just always end up feeling guilty. The situation seems to make my FH happy, but I can’t help but feel a sense of loss that I will not be inheriting a new family with this marriage.


    • Michele

      I don’t think one is obligated to love (or even like) people just by virtue of the fact that they’re related to them. Respect? Yes, in the sense that you don’t actively treat them poorly, even if you don’t respect their values or lifestyle, but that’s true for ALL people, regardless of relation.

    • Jackie, I know it sucks… feeling guilty about leaving your mother alone. And I have no advice for that- it plagues me everyday. But I can say this, it sounds like you, your mom and grandmother created a wonderful family for yourselves. Friends are the family you choose, so if you’ve created a kickass group of folks to spend the holidays with, you are one lucky gal.

    • ka

      hi jackie–
      don’t know if you’ll see this because i’m so late in commenting, but i relate to a lot of what you’re saying so figured I’d share. firstly, please try to not feel guilty. not easy, believe me i know! i’m the kind of person, and it sounds like you are, that will weigh through how a situation or a decision might impact every single person involved, and bc i care abt them soo much, i try to make sure they’re all blissfully happy. well, i’m learning that sometimes it just work like that, no matter how hard you try. i also feel you when you say you hoped to marry into a new happy family. so did i. with just my mom and grandparents growing up, i didn’t have an imaginary friend–i had an imaginary family! so yea, i looonged for a big family to call my own (even more so when my mom and grandparents passed away). ironically, i found my fiance, who has a small-ish family that he hasn’t seen in years! sometimes i try (its mothers day–call your mom!), but mostly i respect the relationship or lack of that he wants to have with them. yes, i get sad that there won’t be that inherited family, but i’m very glad that we have our baby family (which if it one day had kids and they had baby families, well my god, we might even have a real, “normal” sized family!), and glad that i know that choosing him, in spite of his lack of awesome family, means he’s extra special to me. so to me, it sounds like you’ve got a kick @ss, albeit unconventional family, and you should be enjoying the time you have together. (well most of it, cause even awesome families aren’t awesome all the time.) and if your fiance doesn’t mind spending all those holidays with them, then go for it! you might just be giving him the gift you’ve always wanted—a new family.

  • Erin

    So far, I think we’re safe when it comes to holidays. While we were dating/engaged, we spent a lot of holidays with his family, simply because they were closer and had big, traditional family bashes, but we’d split the Christmas break — the day with our own families, then he’d fly out to be with my fam for a few days, and we’d fly back to spend NY day with his.

    My family hasn’t had a real big family holiday party in years, but somehow our wedding catalyzed a marvelous excitement about holiday gatherings among my family, so this year we are hosting Thanksgiving (at my parents’ house). Who knew that my loud, whiny, rambunctious family kind’ve, sort’ve liked each other? I don’t think they did, but now, bring on the eats!

    But we’re the most excited about starting our very first new family traditions: this will be the first year we wake up together on Christmas :)

  • Morgan

    It’s hard when you do, in fact, like his family better. Or, at least, would rather drive 5 hours round trip to see them for a weekend than have dinner with your mother, who lives in town. Because the 5 hour drive is far more relaxing than 3 hours of constant faceslamming negativity. Ahem. Or so I hear.

  • Throwing a wrench in…. but with these blended holiday meals and celebrations…. what if our families don’t want to blend? (Kind of echoing what Class of 1980 said about creating islands and eventually creating new traditions on their own.) I feel like this blended Thanksgiving dinner (or somehow merging of holiday celebrations) is kind of selfish of me and my husband. In theory it sounds like a great idea… but what if he and I are the only ones that want to mix things up and our siblings, parents, etc. don’t want any of it? Sometimes I think he and I are just trying to make it easier on ourselves by planning this big get together, but will it be worth it if everyone creates their own little island?

    • I would love to do a big, blended holiday get-together… but I just don’t know if it would work. :-P

      He’s the baby of the family and his siblings all have children (and thus, the focus of all holiday get-togethers, which is fine). They also have long-established holiday traditions.

      At almost-28, I’m the oldest of my family, with my youngest brother only 13. And with my dad gone… most of our traditions have sort of fallen apart, too. The holidays are an awkward time of year, because it’s also the anniv. of his death.

      And while our families mingled at the wedding (the first time my whole family met his whole family), they just don’t have much in common besides me + him. Their life stages are totally different right now and my brothers are teenaged and shy. I’m guessing if my husband and I had children, this would assist in bringing our families together (at least, that’s what I’ve witnessed with my nieces and nephews), but we’re not sure that we’re going to have kids. So yeah, although I selfishly would love to knock out 2 holiday get-togethers with one stone, I’m not sure it’s ever gonna happen. At least our families live close together, so we can hit up both in one day, if we want to.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Obv, every family is different, but I’m a “go big or go home” kind of girl. I have no idea if a blended family thanksgiving is a good idea. My family got along okay with Husband’s for our wedding, but they certainly didn’t bond.

        We’ve got the generation gap (Husband is 15 years older than me, his siblings are in their late 30s and early 40s. My sis is 22. His parent’s are similarly 15 years older than mine.) We have the culture gap – my rural midwestern family to his New Jersey clan. And we have the lifestyle gap – his parents are retired and his brothers in full baby-making mode, my parents are still hustling workaholics and my sister is in grad school.

        But f*ck it. We love them all, why shouldn’t they love each other? Maybe it’ll suck. Maybe my sister and her bf will hide texting in the corner and my vegetarian sisters in law will speechify on the cruelty of poultry farming while my dad cuts the turkey. Maybe I’ll burn the house down. Or maybe it’ll be legendary. It could still totally be the best Thansgiving ever. Maybe we’ll all bond watching Charlie Brown and eating my mom’s alcoholic cranberry sauce.

        We won’t know until we try, and we’re the gambling sort. A bad Thanksgiving this year is just a funny story at Thanksgiving next year.

        • “A bad Thanksgiving this year is just a funny story at Thanksgiving next year.”

          Hells yes!

          My partner and I, while not yet married, starting spending holidays together and alternating families last year, when we started living together (before that, we would spend some time with each family but separate to open presents/eat the turkey with our respective families). Our first holiday season worked out really well, so we’re very lucky to have understanding and supporting families.

          I’m really looking forward to hosting these things ourselves, though! Our families get along really well (I knowwwwww, we’re lucky!!) and I think that will be a blast.

          Now I want it to be Thanksgiving!! Still 6 weeks to go….

        • We’re pretty committed to the idea of a big family Thanksgiving dinner. I just worry… about everything and everyone. I do like the eff it approach. You’re right, Abby… you never know until you try. And yes, the effed up family get-togethers are always the most fun to laugh about…. a year or so after it happens, of course!

    • meg

      I don’t think anyone is pitching blending as the answer, it just works for some people.

    • Our families will be very nice with each other, and our parents will get along, but he has no siblings, and so there won’t be much “blending”. Holidays will be worked out separately. I would be willing to put money on the fact that the only time my entire family will be where I live is on the day of my wedding, and possibly something to do with my child. Yearly holidays aren’t enough to get my siblings and their spouses and children all here.
      Which isn’t meant bitterly, although it could sound that way. That’s just now how my family does.

    • We don’t celebrate thanksgiving here, so it’s Christmas and… Christmas! My husband is one of 4 children. All of his sisters are married with children and his family are seriously “Not Poor”. I am one of two, my sister is unmarried (thankgoodness) and my parents live a more simple life. Generally, we alternate: one year his family (even years), one year mine (odd years). BUT this year is our last Christmas in town before we disappear into the Pacific for our two year adventure, so we’re hatching a plan. We’ve managed to persuade all his sisters that a huge joint Christmas would be fun: just for this year. In order to make (mainly) my mother feel happier about not being swamped, we’re trying to soften the blow of “hisfamily”. It all hinges on each on of the sisters inviting their in-laws as well so that it turns into a bigger gathering of families as oppose to an “us v them” scenario… Not sure if it’s going to work, but we’re holding thumbs! We’re also only going to each buy one really marvellous gift and play the unwrapping-one-at-a-time game (um, where you can “steal” any gift that’s been unwrapped before your turn?) Jeepers, families are t-r-i-c-k-y.

  • Suzanna

    Would it be a total cop-out to just say, “It gets better as the years go by”?

    Everyone grows up, everyone rearranges their priorities. It’s not a matter of “refusing” to go somewhere, or even juggling locations. Because someone’s always going to feel like it’s not enough. It’s a matter of letting go of what you thought was supposed to be (or your parents letting go of what they thought, or both). It’s a tough transition, but if you’re firm and gentle at the same time, things will go more smoothly.

    As someone from a HUGE blended family, with married siblings and step-siblings who have their own in-laws, I can tell you that it’s nearly impossible to hold onto old traditions (because you’re making new ones!), or even try to schedule everyone to be in one place at the same time. There is a bit of grieving that goes with this. But the positive side is that I have so many more people I can call family! It’s wonderful, and really honestly just feels like more love.

    • I like your outlook Suzanna. My dad’s family is very much the same- step siblings, third and fourth cousins, new SO’s, and next door neighbors. Everyone is always welcome as far as they’re concerned. We used to do Christmas Eve at my dad’s mom’s house. The whole family would come and it was great. Then everyone started having children or getting married, traveling became more difficult, and the gatherings became much smaller. Eventually, my dad’s parents started traveling to see their children and grandchildren. In the last four or five years we’ve done the big Christmas party at a banquet hall in a Fire House the weekend before Christmas. That way everyone can see each other and still have Christmas Eve and Day to spend at home or with other family/friends.

      • Morgan

        My extended family does New Year’s Day, and my husband’s extended does the first weekend of December at a hall near the old homestead. It works really well, for getting family together without making the holiday-day a day of contention. It’s worked really well for my family for +35 years. Plus, no one ever has plans for New Year’s Day, except maybe a hangover, so everyone generally shows up, and it’s often the only time in the year I see my second cousins and extended aunts and such. I recommend it.

    • Class of 1980

      At the bottom of it all, family members just want some proof that you love them.

      When old traditions have to go due to logistics, finding new ways to show them that you care helps to ease the disappointment. Maybe that means seeing them at other times of the year or doing nice things for them. As long as they know they’re loved, it helps create a better mood.

  • Alyssa

    This is such a great post because not only does it show both sides, it also lets you know that it’s not going to happen overnight. It’ll take time and possibly tears, but you’ll find the way to make it work.
    Or, if not, consider it a model of behavior on how NOT to behave if/when you have children. May parents are a great examples of how having a family who is a big pile of “Don’t” makes you an awesome parent….

    And on a sidenote, does anyone else have a slight issue when you’re complaining about your parents and your partner agrees a little TOO much? I know it’s juvenile, but we’re still working on that whole “our” family thing, so when I’m all “OMG, my mom is NUTS,” I get a bit defensive if he agrees…even when we’re both totally right.

    • Of course! My sisters came and visited and we’re nuts when we get together. I didn’t like hearing my fiancee say that, though. Heh heh. Not at all. (But he’s totally right. We’re craaaaaazy.) Heh heh. I felt better when I remembered that he also has some mega cooky family members. EVERYONE’S family is nuts. Human beings are weird. Period.

    • Pamela

      Ooooh, yeah. It’s totally ok for *me* to get off the phone and say “Mom is crazy!” If my partner does that? Yeah, not so pretty.

      • FM

        As someone on the other side of that usually, after a year of marriage I am still trying to feel out how much I can vent about my husband’s family to my husband (and really they are lovely but also crazy, and mine is too but we see them less so it affects him less). It is hard but I HAVE to vent about it sometimes because it affects me and I don’t want either me or my husband to feel like we can’t talk about our feelings around it, and also because after spending extensive time with them I can’t hold my reactions in. So, it’s a balance is all I’m saying. And being on the other side isn’t just about criticizing, it’s about making sure you guys are dealing with life (including your families of origin) as a team and that the partner with the crazy family member of the moment has the other partner’s back when the craziness ensues (whether that’s telling the crazy family to back off, getting yourself out of the crazy to be your normal self for your partner for a few minutes, letting your partner off the hook from some family interactions, etc.).

        • Thank you for saying the magic word. Balance is a very good word to remember. In all things. (Did I just sound like Yoda?)

    • Haha! This made me laugh…. He nods and agrees ALL the time, but I do the same with him too. We’re pretty careful about just agreeing and nodding. We leave out the comments :)

    • ddayporter

      haha yes, sometimes he does agree and I’m like, Wait. but actually, most of the time he’s like “oh she’s not that bad” or he tries to make me see things from her perspective or some crazy idea like that….. and I get frustrated because I know he knows she’s crazay but I don’t get to just vent about it. [see: men always try to fix things, women just want to vent]

      • Two of my friends who are married to each other, they have this policy about their families. They each think the other family is nuts (and know it) so they agree to just not talk about it. lol.

  • So I have been thinking about holidays and precedence and the future. My husband and I got married last fall, and since I am an only child, and all his immediate family lives in the same area where we also live, my parents just came here for Christmas. (My parents live in the U.S.; we are in Canada.) It was a logical choice and it went pretty well, especially considering we did joint Christmas celebrations (several since his parents are divorced). His family was very welcoming to my parents and invited them to everything. However, because my parents are anglophone and his parents are francophone, I found it somewhat stressful. The bilingual thing, while quite interesting from a linguistic perspective, was stressful for me because I try hard to be inclusive.My parents speak no French, and while some of his family is very good in English, others on his side speak little English, so someone is always excluded, in whatever language we choose. Plus, now that we have done one joint Christmas for our first married year, I don’t know if we will be expected to do it this way forever? Any ideas?

  • Jen, I definitely relate. We’re been married 4 years and I still look back with sadness on the talking-to my sister gave me about wedding shoes. (Hint: it wasn’t about shoes). She actually said to me, two weeks before my wedding, that she felt like I was being assimilated into the Borg. Yikes. Those words cut pretty deep, and I actually let that worry of hers keep me from engaging with my in-laws as much as I would have like the first year or so.

    See, my in-laws are a closely knit bunch who all live within 2-3 hours of each other. They vacation together for a week every summer. They have an enormous Thanksgiving gathering (50+ people) every year. This is because my grandmother-in-law and her sisters are all _very_ close, so all their children and grandkids and great grandkids know each other well. It’s cool.

    My family? Yeah, not as much. My immediate family is scattered all over the country. We get together when we can, but it’s always such a project just to get us all in the same place that we’re usually stressed out by the time we get there.

    I completely understand Meg thinking “how lucky!” and, true, this is a great problem to have: I’ve been welcomed with open arms into a loving family. My MIL is the kind of woman with whom I can share a pitcher of sangria and laugh until we snort. But striking the balance between my definitely-loving-but-not-super-close-or-demonstrative immediate family and this huge, no-holds-barred, very tight extended in-law clan can be stressful. The last thing a woman wants to do is leave the parents who raised her feeling left out now that she’s grown and heading up her own baby family.

    I think my parents get it, and they’re OK with it: my mom has mentioned several times that she always wished she could have been closer to her MIL. And I think they get the whole “hearts expanding” phenomenon Sarah brilliantly mentioned above. But my sister still thinks that I spend too much time with my in-laws. Which is frustrating, because the other last thing I would want to do is miss out on the gift I was given when these folks first welcomed me.

  • tupelohoney

    Sarah K., I’m in a similar situation. My fiance and I have split up for some portion of Christmas for the past 5 years for various reasons (divorced parents, younger siblings we want to stay with so they’re not the only “kid” in the house, etc), whether it be Christmas Eve night, Christmas morning, or later in the day. I HATE it. I love that we’re lucky enough to be able to see everyone on holidays since we’re all within driving distance (we can’t use the “you’re a plane ride away” excuse), but it makes things difficult. This is going to be our first Christmas as a married couple (wedding in October!) and I would like us to stay together (just us and our dog) in our home Christmas Eve night – something we’ve never done, though living together for 4 Christmases. I’m not sure how that will fly with the ‘rents. At the same time, part of me will miss waking up to my mom making breakfast and seeing my sister still in her pajamas Christmas morning. Is that part of the process? Or does that mean we don’t split up, but stay at my mom’s together that night? Then what about his family? This stuff isn’t easy.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      In a way, the plane ride aspect simplifies these things for us. We can’t do more than one event in a day. We do all the things with my family, go to the airport, fly halfway across the country and then do all the things with his family. I hate being the first to leave or the last to arrive, but all those little choices disappear. We get to fully commit to being whereever we are.

      On the other hand it’s wicked expensive and the last two Christmas holidays have involved spending more than 20 hours in airports and airplanes. That’s time you never get back.

  • Pamela

    We split up the holidays early into our dating life – we alternate Christmas and Thanksgiving with each family, and so far, everyone has accepted that (even if we do hear grumbles on occasion). I do feel guilty because my fiance is an only child and an only grandchild, so I feel like I’m depriving his family of his presence during the holidays we spend with my family. For all the other “minor” holidays we just go with the flow, but it usually works out ok. My family is more religious, so Easter is bigger deal to them than say, the Fourth of July. We’re lucky because we all live in the same city, so we don’t have the travel factor.

    It’s really hard though – I like his family, but as others have said, they’re not “my” family. They do things differently. My family is big and loud and the Thanksgiving football games are always on the TV and we interrupt each other and play stupid games and hang out at whatever house until the last possible second. His family is very reserved, and in between bits of Very Polite Conversation you can hear the clock ticking.

    With wedding planning, my mom is all over everything – she wants to know every detail, every decision, etc. She’s been super enthusiastic about all of our choices, which is awesome, but she wants to know everything. I’m pretty sure that his family is happy about us getting married, but they just… don’t talk about it much.

    It’s hard – I’ll pick up the phone and call my Mom or my Dad any time – just to chat. I never do that with his Mom (not becuase I don’t like her – I do!). Sometimes I feel like I should do better, reach out more, etc, but it’s really, really hard to do that. I don’t feel like I need another Mom (I’ve already got one), and I’m just not sure what a good in-law relationship looks like. Both my Dad’s parents had passed away by the time I was born, so I don’t really have any examples of how to do this.

    Anyway, I’m rambling now, but it helps to read these comments and know I’m not the only one figuring this out!

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I kind of think of my MIL as an aunt. I love my aunts, but they’re more like specialists than generalists. My mom and sister are generalists, any question, observation, life event or bit of trivia gets filtered through them. Mom gives me relationship advice, career advice, etiquette advice, fashion advice, you name it.

      My aunts don’t get the big everything. My aunt Linda and I talk about books. Aunt Le is a spiritual guide. Aunt Jodi and I bond over movies and fashion. Aunt Linda number two helps me with my taxes. My new MIL is more in this category. She’s crafty and loves chick flicks and has 7 grandchildren. I think there’s room for her in my panel of specialists and right now, that’s how I’m trying to integrate her into my new family.

      When I spill coffee on my brand new pants I call my mom. When I need help figuring out how to hem their replacement I’m going to call MIL.

    • tupelohoney

      “I never do that with his Mom (not becuase I don’t like her – I do!). Sometimes I feel like I should do better, reach out more, etc, but it’s really, really hard to do that.”

      I completely agree. I don’t want to reach out if it feels forced because it does NOT come naturally for me to reach out to my FMIL. I feel this way in regards to the wedding planning and in general with her. :-(

    • Fab

      I know exactly what you mean, Pamela–I don’t know what a good in-law relationship looks like, and without a real model I’m floundering a bit. Pop culture (oh man, am I really thisclose to referencing Everybody Loves Raymond?) says that we should be at odds, and my own family gives me “awkward but polite conversations about the grandkids” and then there’s…nothing. The answer, of course, is “spend some time and work out something over the years” but I wish that there was a quicker fix.

    • Class of 1980

      Since his mother is more reserved, she may actually feel entirely comfortable with the relationship you already have.

  • meg

    So, it’s interesting that so much of this conversation is revolving around the holidays, because I’m really interested in how people deal with these problems on a more day-to-day level. Holidays are sort of the culmination of the every day, when you think about it.

    I find it particularly interesting because holidays are not much of an issue for us. With one Christian family and one Jewish family, there is not a lot of overlap. Our biggest challenge has just been trying to build our own traditions. So, I’m living proof that you can take the holidays totally out of the picture and still not make it easy.

    • He’s an only child and I am one of 7, so my family learned early on that we needed to be flexible in terms of holidays. We haven’t celebrated Christmas on the proper day in yeeears (pretty much since the first sibling married). None of our families make a big deal out of other holidays, though, so here’s how we’ve divided it up: This year, pre-marriage, we’re both doing Christmas proper with our families. After that, we visit my family three times a year, with one of those visits being a Christmas at Thanksgiving or early December Christmas. Then we’ll do Christmas with his family too.

      As you said, though, Meg, the suck part of that comes in that Christmas is important to each of us and we want it to be for our kids, too, so we have to find a way to make our OWN Christmas traditions.

    • Michele

      We’re “fortunate” in the regard that the day to day blending of families isn’t much of an issue for us, simply because both sets of parents live thousands of miles from us. I think things get hairy when both sets of parents live nearby, or (maybe even worse) when only ONE does.

      I remember being a little anxious about our parents meeting for the first time (AT the welcome dinner the day before the wedding), because his are in their early 60s, retired, and rather proper. Mine, on the other hand are….none of those things! My dad is in his early 50s, my step-mom in her mid-40s, and they’re both party animals. In fact, I speculated that my parents would get on much better with my husband’s BROTHER (in his mid-40s) rather than his parents.

      Ultimately, I needn’t have worried, because if nothing else, the one thing they have in common is US – so there will always be at least one tie that binds. But beyond that, chances are slim to none that they’ll see each other more often than MAYBE once every 5 years (if that), so really, they don’t need to be best friends.

    • Day-to-day for us feels like we tally how often we talk to/see our families. If I call my mom on the way home from work I’ll get home and ask him if he’s spoken to his parents. If he says no, then we pull out the laptop and skype it up. His sister is the only family member of his in our area, so when we drive the hour south to see my family for lunch or for the afternoon, we make sure to stop by his sister’s college to see her for dinner. Tit for tat, I suppose.

      Right now, it’s measurable and it works. Sometimes it’s not always enjoyable and we do a lot of trekking around the state, but on our rides home we always talk about how good of a time it was.

      I also try to make the most of the time, even if it’s a quick phone convo. I don’t think there’s a cap or minimum on spending time with our families as long as it’s quality time.

    • I don’t feel the pressure day-to-day because we live far away from either of our families, and my fiance’s family is not close to one another. He likes to quote that old episode of Daria where Jane was going to a family reunion to describe the rare times when his family actually gets together: “Do you know where I’ll be this weekend? The Lane family reunion. Dozens of Lanes from all over the country converging in one Midwestern split-level to remind themselves why they scattered in the first place.”

      My family is much closer, but my fiance is happy being part of our group, and so far we haven’t had to try to mix the two groups together (in fact, I haven’t seen his family since I was 15).

    • peanut

      yeah, the holidays aren’t really that big of a deal for us either, since we’re not religious and one set of parents lives in another country; it’s the seemingly unimportant everyday things that brings out drama. While I think it will die down significantly after the wedding, I have a feeling it will flare up again when we decide where to buy a house after we graduate …. and when we have kids ….

    • Morgan

      I’ve been thinking about your comment all day, and I think the reason why people go straight for holidays in this type of discussion is because for most of us, holidays are a zero-sum game, if you don’t mind me dragging up game theory. Zero-sum – for one person to win, someone has to lose. For one family to “get” Christmas Day, the other family can not – and so they lose. But for the rest of the year? It’s easier. We’ll be having dinner with my mother tonight, and then going to spend the weekend at my in-laws. I spend time with both, without taking time away from either. No one has to be compromised for me to see both, and no ones feelings are hurt – not a zero-sum game, because we all win.

    • Damn Gina

      I’ve been really lucky in that our families seem to get along well and both appear to view the wedding as a net plus. We were able to do a workable holiday plan in 20 mins flat. What I’m far more worried about is how *I’m* going blend with his family on in the day-to-day.

      My fiance and I come from different cultures and different familial styles. I’m exceptionally close with my mom, but I don’t talk to her more than once every week or two unless something particular (like wedding planning) is going on. That’s how our entire smallish family works. I think we’d all say we’re very close, but we’re far-flung, get together only a few times a year, and aren’t so involved in each other’s day to day.

      His family, on the other hand, is huge and very involed in eachother’s day to day! There’s always a function, someones always driving from here to there for a holiday or a birthday. And it’s kind of new to me. Sometimes, like when people drive from North Carolina to DC for my shower, it feels really warm and involved and tightly knit and wonderful. Other times, when we’ve driven from Chicago to Ohio 2 times in 3 weeks, had dinner with 3 relatives on three diffrent nights when they were traveling though our city, and I’m getting phone calls about something that someone heard from someone about someone else it feels suffocating and exhausting and JESUSCHRIST WHY IS EVERYONE SO UP IN EVERYONE ELSE’S BUSINESS AND WHY CAN’T WE HAVE A DAMN WEEKEND TO OURSELVES?

      While we were dating he handled his family and I handled mine. Now that we’re getting married it’s like we’re going from being tandem asteroids that could split off when necessary to members of a solar system where our new planet me+him orbits the binary stars of our respective families. I need to learn how to be more involved and adapt to his family’s way of doing things (which, frankly, will be good for me) if I’m going to be a productive and happy member of this family. At the same time I foresee that we’re going to have to negotiate boundaries that give us free weekends and a comfortable level of privacy or so I don’t end up an exhausted and resentful mess.

      I know our baby family, like an actual baby, is going to take years to grow and mature and in that time it’s going to pass though many distinct and different developmental stages and challenges. But standing here at the beginning of it all, I’m really nervous. I love him and both our families and really want to be a good, happy, giving member of all three entities. And that will require change and compromise and both of those things are hard. Sigh. So, anyone else grappling with fitting in to a different family style have any words of wisdom?

    • Claire

      This. So much this.

      We’ve come to the difficult conclusion recently that our families might never truly blend. There is too much distance and too much difference between them. We live 45 mins from his and 4 hrs from mine, and our families/family structures are so different. My immediate family (my mother, father, and brother) and I are incredibly close, and they ADORE him. His family is close, too, in a different way (as all families are different, of course, and can seem so alien even when completely functional) but they are… weird about me, to say the least. So we’re stuck in a situation where the family that’s close is weird about us and the family that’s far pines for us.

      The day-to-day is very difficult, and we are still figuring out them visiting and us visiting them. We are in the fetus stage of our baby family, learning what to stand up for and when to give in. We’re probably going to end up returning to our respective homes for the coming holidays in order to avoid any anger and hurt. Plus, I don’t WANT to spend the holidays with people who have been hostile to me until that hostility has been worked through, and that probably won’t happen before November… unfortunately.

      • meg

        I think people may be mis-reading the word blend, as I used it. Your two families don’t have to blend together, they never even have to MEET after the wedding. The blending comes from you guys. Because now you both have a new family, a bigger more complicated family. If you have kids, this will be their family. It may be two sides of the family that never meet, but it will all be their family. So that’s where the blending comes in – just in your heart.

  • I’ve grown up in a crazy blended family, and these are some things I have learned.

    You have to take care of your own feelings. I don’t mean this in a nasty or selfish way. If you take care of yourself and make sure you are relatively happy and well-balanced, it contributes to the overall health of the family.

    You have to let people be upset sometimes. Family relationships are at once extremely strong and extremely delicate. You can’t make everything perfect, and trying often leads to contempt and resentment. You love as well as you can, which sometimes means letting someone vent or yell or cry or give you the silent treatment.

    You forgive and hope they forgive you.

    You take a step back when you need it. Once you learn you can’t control other people’s feelings, you have to learn to extract yourself from hurtful situations until everyone cools down. (Or sometimes permanently.)

    Insecurities aren’t always rational, so you can’t always reason them away. You may want your mother (or any other family member) to understand that you are not going to abandon her, but you can’t erase her insecurities. They are hers, they are complicated, and they do not go away overnight.

    Best of luck.

    • Eliza

      Wow, Rachel, this is so … so … *solid*. Thankyou for writing this – this is pretty much in a nutshell how I approach dealing with my (strong but oh so delicate) family relationships. Particularly in terms of boundaries. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to protect myself and my fiance and our baby family, and the wedding planning, while still letting my mother in and let her have a part in things… and it’s tricky, because my boundaries are so solid from years of this kind of balancing act. I guess this is it, really – ride out the hurt, let her be hurt where she’s going to have those feelings (while reassuring her about it), and try to keep being loving in spite of the drama.

      • Hi Eliza,

        It’s so tough, but it sounds like you are working really hard to retain a sense of balance and perspective. Weddings leave us all vulnerable. We’re trying to hard to be true to ourselves, and often our parents want so badly to express to the world (or their friends or family or anyone else) that they raised us “right”, whatever that means.

        I think we have to be thankful for imperfect love that comes in the form of insistence about floral arrangements or ceremony music or anxiety over our decisions. I also think having to be intentional about our current family relationships gives us grace wisdom when we are growing our baby families. I wish you grace and forgiveness, especially towards yourself.

  • Jen

    So.. hi. I’m the one who wrote the email. :)

    Thanks to everybody for their advice – I think all we can hope for is that time will really help… Years will go by and my fiance and I will figure out how to navigate this crazy thing of starting our own family and blending our “original” families together.

    There continue to be bumps, and yes, our families may not ever be the best of friends, but in all the frustration, all I keep reminding myself (and him) of is that deep down, after all the spats, the side-eye, etc, we have 2 families that *love* us dearly. And would do anything for us (whether we want it or not!) ;-) While my parents might be a bit more vocal to voice any sorts of concerns, it comes from a deep, protective place of love. It drives us crazy sometimes, but in the end, I can only hope that it will work out.

    • Hi Jen,

      It may not seem like it now, but I have a lot of confidence that things are already starting to work out for you and your families. You are being so thoughtful and loving, and that’s often the hardest part of the process. Your post is absent of contempt and resentment and very full of compassion for your parents and everyone else in your family. For most people who grew up with two parents and siblings, your marriage is the first time the definition of family has bended and stretched. The growing pains hurt, and I doubt if they ever stop completely. Take a deep breath. You are doing a really good job, and your family is so lucky to have you.

  • Excellent question and excellent response.

    We live far away from both of our families and have for many years before we met and got married. I think that helps us.

    In an odd way our marriage brought him closer to his family. He sees me call my mom every week and has started to do the same. It’s been a pleasant surprise for his mom.

    • That’s so nice!

  • Bridette

    Sheesh- yes. I am really struggling, like crying and getting really pissy and unreasonable, struggling. My fiance and my mom have been great but I feel like there is impending doom. We dated only a year but I really hated being apart from my fiance that year. We are getting married in 2011 but I am starting the family holidays now. He’s my family even if its not official.

    Anyhow, Fiance was very sweet and said Xmas is more important to your family so if you come with me to Thanksgiving this year, we can do Xmas with your family and then go back and see my family for New Years. Next year we will switch. Sounds perfect but I don’t want to skip xmas with my family ever. Its really unfair and mean but I am having panic attacks thinking about Christmas 2012???? what. Im a reasonable person – this is ridiculous.

    SO we decide to let the families decide. I tell my Mom- she’s awesome, no problem. My dad is escstatic because we already rescheduled his thankgiving in prior years so he gets me for both. Then we start telling fiance’s brothers. They are married and they are like, GREAT – thanks for handling the issue for us. We are going to skip Xmas too. UM WHAT? They think because we aren’t going, they don’t have to go….So our engagement means that his parents spend Xmas alone.

    WTF??? Now its my fault. I hate holidays.

    • Now that you’re in a couple, I’m afraid you don’t get to say “ever.” You have to meet each other halfway, and that means that, every once in a while, you will be at his family’s for xmas.

      I know how you feel…last year was my first xmas away from my family. I was at my fiancee’s…it was really, really hard. I spent some time in the bathroom crying because I felt so lonely without all my sisters and my nieces and my nephew. But, you know what? I survived. And I had opportunities to get to know my fiancee’s family and bond with them in a way you can only bond during a special holiday and all the stress that surrounds a holiday. For example, when I left the bathroom crying and feeling totally alone, my fiancee’s brother saw me and said, “Oh no! You’ve been crying!” Then he got his sister and his girlfriend and they were all hugging me and giving me attention and then I just felt loved and silly.

      Try it. You won’t be sorry!

    • Sarah

      I know how you feel, lady. Christmas has always been a huge deal to my family … and his family doesn’t even celebrate, just goes to a church convention on the 25th (they do not recognize Christmas in their church). Of course, his parents would like us to come with them on that day (his dad flat out said it last year) but my family (and I) would be devastated if we weren’t with THEM at least part of the day.

      Add in the fact that we now live across the country from BOTH families, and you have a mess.

      My grandparents had a great solution … they would go to her family on Christmas Eve, and his on Christmas night … with the mornings spent between the 2 of them, and later their kids. They got the families on board with it, and it’s worked for three generations now … everyone knows Christmas Eve is at Aunt Joan’s and Christmas Day is at Aunt Marlene’s. (My grandparent’s sisters.) As a kid it was great … two days of celebrating! As an adult it’s great … we get to see everyone!

      Could this type of situation be something your families could get behind? Even the brothers?

      • Tell me how this has worked for 3 generations, please! When people in later generations married into other families, how did they incorporate that into ALREADY having 2 Christmas celebrations? We’ve done something similar my whole life – Christmas Eve with my mom’s family, Christmas Day with my Dad’s family (my parents are still married), so we never had to deal with skipping Christmas with either side – so I’m not used to EVER spending a Christmas without seeing ALL of my relatives. But now I feel like it leaves me hamstrung with regards to beginning to share Christmases with my fiance and his family. We can’t add in a “we’ll see your family on Christmas Eve” solution, because it cuts an entire half of my family out of spending Christmas with us, permanently. If we decide that because we spend every Christmas Eve with my family, we should spend every Christmas Day with his, I’ll never be able to celebrate with my Dad’s side of the family. His parents live too far away to even do Christmas Eve with my family and still get to their family for Christmas, without spending either most of the night or a substantial portion of Christmas Day in the car. (And don’t think that I haven’t thought that driving through the night is the only reasonable solution. I tend to be idealistic and somewhat inflexible when it comes to holidays. I foresee this being a big issue our first few holiday seasons as a married couple, and I’d like to avoid that.) I guess I feel like my family gets shortchanged – on years with my family, he’d only miss 1 family event, but on years with his family, I’d miss 2. (We’ll be LIVING BY my family. My perceptions of who gets shortchanged are entirely biased, but I don’t know how to fix them.) My family is very local, and close-knit, and all married other people who were more or less local, so I have no examples of how people with far-flung inlaws make it work. Growing up, we could always do things like Easter brunch with one side of the family and Easter dinner with the other, and never had to travel more than 30 minutes between the two.

        • meg

          My dear, you’ll have to rotate. No one is getting shortchanged exactly, you’re both missing your family Christmas situation now and then, those celebrations just look different (but are equally important). I think you have to look as it as it’s painful because things are changing, but it’s not getting shortchanged, it’s growing.

          Once upon a time your parents had to figure out what they wanted their Christmas to look like. From your point of view it looks easy, because that’s how it’s been your whole life. But I bet it was hard at first, because it was new. Now you have your own family, and you have to figure out what you want your Christmas to look like. One day, your kids might think your Christmas perfect, because it’s what they’ve always known.

          • I know, I know. I sound like a petulant child, don’t I? But emotions run high, for me, on this topic above all others that we’ve encountered planning out wedding and our marriage.

            It probably should help – but doesn’t – that my dad has told me how it wasn’t easy, but he gave up his family’s Christmas Eve tradition so my mom could continue her family’s. It’s awfully tempting to hear that and think “Well, FH should do the same for me, since our Christmas Eve celebration is SO AWESOME and SO SPECIAL TO ME, and see, even my dad knew it when they first got married!” rather than to hear it and take away the lesson “sometimes you (read: I) have to make sacrifices and put the other person first.”

    • I love Christmas with my family. The only one I ever missed with my parents was when I was living in Brazil. Thanksgiving I’ve been elsewhere since graduating high school (it’s such a short holiday and I’m already going home for Christmas that I never went home for Thanksgiving). So Christmas without my parents is kind of a big deal.

      We got married last November and decided to do all holidays with just our new baby family last year (partially for financial reasons). We used the webcam to talk to both of our families on Christmas and see what they had going on and show them what we were doing and gave them tours of our house to see it decorated. But we were starting our own traditions with our own baby family. And it was wonderful.

      My parents decided since nobody was coming to see them they’d go visit someone and spent Christmas with my sister and her family.

      When my sister got married her mother-in-law pulled my mom aside to set up a holiday schedule where my sister was expected to go to one family in the even years and the other in the odd years. My mom told her that they couldn’t do that, that my sister and her husband are their own family now and have to do what works for them. My parents would be more than happy to have them come whenever they could but weren’t going to make them travel when they couldn’t for various reasons. And that’s what’s happened.

      All I’m saying is things will work out. But it is real weird to go from your family being your immediate family to now being more on the extended family side because you and your husband are your immediate family now.

      • meg

        I think this is great, on 27 million different levels.

        It’s interesting because we’re all talking about Christmas with our family or his family, and we’re forgetting, “Hey, we’re our own family now. We can build our own traditions.” I think there is a lot of pressure to NOT build your own traditions till you have a baby as an excuse, so I think it’s great that you’re jumping in now.

        And your mother is right. You have to do what works. Everyone has expectations (including you), and it’s hard to change, but you have to stay true to your new family. Hard stuff though.

        • Eliza

          On building our own traditions – my family are VERY into Christmas and family things, his family not so much. Last Christmas, his mum was going to be alone for Christmas day (though she had an extended family thing to go to, she had no immediate family with her). So, we invited her over for Christmas breakfast/brunch! It was really fun – we had champagne and heaps of food, and played scrabble together, just me, my fiance and his mother. And then we still got to go to my family’s Christmas thing after that, which meant no feelings were hurt on my family’s side. I’m hoping to do it again this year – mostly because it was so much fun, and neat to host my own little Christmas thing without having to worry about cooking a roast!

  • E

    Very interesting thread here. I’m interested to see how this will play out in my own marriage. Like some of you, we have one Christian family and one Jewish family, so those types of holidays won’t be an issue (although my fiance says that he missed going out for Chinese food on December 25th last year, ha).

    The day to day stuff is going to be more of a challenge. My beloved, involved, rambunctious, large, fun family lives four hours away. His small family lives nearby. I really wish the situation were reversed, and I think that feeling will only increase when we have children in a few years. Do I feel a little guilty when I decline my future MIL’s spontaneous Sunday lunch invitations? Yes, but I also usually have a long to-do list on Sundays which rarely involves a drive to the suburbs. Should I make an effort to schedule more get togethers with her? Yes. Should my family feel like they are being replaced? Absolutely not, and they know it.

    • meg

      Since Christmas Eve Service has proved to be too much for David (he suffers through the tree and presents with a smile, though I know he hates it), we’ve started going out for Chinese food just the two of us on Christmas Eve. He loves it. He says things like, “Now that’s more like it!” and “Look at all the Jews! We’re with our people, honey!”

      I reccomend it.

      He still misses Vegas on Christmas day, but you can’t have it all.

  • FM

    I think it’s interesting how few people here have said the word jealousy. Because I think that’s what’s going on for a lot of people here and in my own family. I think my mom is jealous of my husband’s family because they see me WAY more than my parents do (because they live across the country). For her, I think it’s not even that she thinks I don’t want to see my own family as much, just that she is envious of their time with me and that she doesn’t get to have that, and sometimes she acts like a brat because of that feeling (which I totally get and just work with and tell her I love her and wait it out).

    Another j-word that I haven’t seen a lot here is feeling like you’re being judged by your in-laws for the differences between your family and theirs. One issue I have (that I don’t think my parents have felt yet from my in-laws, but I think it could be hard on them if they heard what I hear from my in-laws) is that my husband’s family can be kind of judgmental about the way family things are done. Like, they don’t get that my parents and I don’t fly across the country to see each other every 6 or 8 weeks (because 6 to 8 weeks is already a long time, they feel), that we might only see each other a couple of times a year. Every single time they see me they ask when I’m going to see my parents next (and yes, the answer has been the same for the past 6 months). They don’t get that while it would be nicer for me to spend holidays with my parents, we’re all used to it not happening that way and it’s not the end of the world. With the underlying assumption being (or feeling to me) that maybe my parents are not as good of parents as they should be because they don’t fly out to see me all the time or our relationship isn’t as good, and my in-laws feel sorry for me. Like if you don’t want to be (or at least don’t feel the need to be over other things in life) all up in each other’s butts all the time you’re doing family the wrong way. My in-laws would feel terrible if they knew they came across that way to me, but I do think that’s how they feel underneath.

    • Claire

      Oh man, that second j-word is KILLER. I’m Canadian, so Thanksgiving, albeit a lovely time, isn’t the biggest deal in my family, and we’ve come to celebrate the holidays when we’re all together as opposed to when the calendar tells us we should. I spent this past Thxgiving with his family and got to hear over and over and over, “Where are your parents? What are they doing today? You LEFT them? ALONE? They didn’t insist you come home? On THANKSGIVING?!?” There wasn’t necessarily any malevolence in those comments, but they still hurt to hear.

  • peanut

    Ugh. What about when you love your in-laws, and your fiance loves your parents – but the parents don’t like each other? And you come from a very “family-centric-let’s-do-everything-together” culture? I’ll tell you what – it sucks, and you realize that your parents can be kind of immature and bratty sometimes. And they put you in the middle of catty and unnecessary arguments that you have to rise above and strategy-talk with your partner. The most important thing we have learned from our experiences with our families is that talking about it and coming up with a plan of attack with your partner is the. most. important. thing – because otherwise, if you’re hiding frustrations and feelings from your partner, it makes you feel like your primary loyalty is to your parents – and it should be for your new baby family. At first I felt like I didn’t want to make my parents “look bad” to my partner – and he the same – but we’ve found that talking about the problems that they have with each other has solidified our own status as our #1 family. But yeah, it sucks. Great post.

  • Michele

    The first year that we lived together, my husband and I decided on a 3-year rotation, where the holidays are concerned. One year with his family, one year with mine, and one year for just the two of us.

    This applies only to Christmas, as Thanksgiving is very much a friend-centric holiday in our world, and I think it works out great.

    I always look forward to “our” year, when it’s just the two of us, doing our thang.

  • ddayporter

    I know I have it easy in this department, since I am fully in the “LOVE my in-laws” category. They are sweet people, largely uncomplicated, never freaked out on us at any point during the engagement or wedding or since. My parents are divorced, and both of them individually are semi-complicated situations (yes I called my parents “situations”) – but still neither of them outwardly displayed any stress over “losing me” after getting married. Both of my parents get along with my in-laws but not each other. My dad is far away, my mom is in the next town over, and my in-laws are in the same town where we now live, where my husband was born and raised. For the most part, if my in-laws are having a gathering, it’s been fairly easy to fold my mom into things.

    ANYway, I’m not even contributing much in the way of advice here. I know this was about the day-to-day blending of families but what’s on my mind right now is the holiday issue. There’s a new grandchild on my in-law’s side, about 1.5 hrs away. I don’t know what the holidays are going to look like this year because ALL of us (on the Porter side) want to spend as much time as possible with that little bean. Also my husband has never spent christmas away from his family, and I know he’s not excited about changing that, especially since neither of my parents have particularly strong christmas traditions. But I can’t abandon my parents!

    I’m hopingggg that whatever we do for christmas, I can invite my mom along so we don’t have to split that up. And then maybe before/after xmas, we can go up and visit my dad…… Just ONE year, it would be nice to not travel for a Single holiday.

  • Not married, but we’ve been dealing with this issue forever because we both have large (divorced + remarried) families that are fairly needy.

    Day to day, we try to divvy it up without driving ourselves nuts. We frequently prioritize on the basis of need, because we have several family members with ongoing health issues. But we also try to be somewhat fair and make sure no one gets completely neglected. So we’ll be looking at our weekend calendar and realize we haven’t made it over to see my dad and stepmom in over a month and we’ll call them up and try to schedule a dinner with them. We frequently see multiple families on one day (hello, breakfast with his grandmother, lunch with my parents, dinner with his parents, dessert with my dad) which is a little insane, but we live 1 hour away from our families, who all live in the same town.

    More difficult than taking care of everyone’s needs fairly is making sure we’re taking care of our own. We’re practicing being better about this by blocking out a full weekend or a few Sundays each month where we commit to being together (or together with friends), sans family. And then if someone schedules a birthday party after we’ve already scheduled our free weekend, we tell them we’re sorry we can’t make it but we’re busy already. There was some anger and crying the first time we did that, but it gets easier each time. We’re slowly teaching all our families that we are a priority too.

    I won’t even get into holidays, which are easier in some ways and harder in others. We deal with them and we make sure that we set aside specific times just for the two of us, within all the madness.

  • Anna

    I grew up in a super typical midwestern family. Farm house, labrador, older brother and a mom and dad who (I swear!) I never saw fight with one another. EVER. I totally grew up thinking you just had to meet the right person and bam! Best friends for life. The year I turned 21, after 36 years married to my dad, my mom came out and my parents divorced. My blissfull ideals were shaken up a bit. It has been 6 years now and I am 100% convinced that they are better off in their respective lives now. That said, divorce after 36 years will leave some holes in things. Both of my parents moved, started new relationships and new careers. This means they were/are pretty limited financially.

    My in-laws are basically the same family without the divorce and the coming out. They have been married 38 years and in their respective jobs as university dean and proffessor for 25 years now. They are pretty stable and happen to be financially very secure. They were able to help me with school by co-signing my loans to get me a better rate. They were able to offer a significant starter nest egg loan with which my Mr and I were able to put a down payment on a house after our second rental in a year was sold out from under us. They have also generously offered to help (significantly) with the wedding expenses.

    We are having a very simple wedding and the entire budget will be under 7k but right now with me in school and having just bought a house, that seems like an astronomical ammount of money. My folks have chipped in where and how they can but my mother seems to be increasingly aware of how much $$ help the in-laws are able to offer. It makes her feel guilty and sad. To add to it, my mom lives on the other side of the country and my in-laws only 2hrs away.

    I don’t want my mom to feel less than or embarassed about the (amaizing! not money) help she has offered us this past year (she is a real estate agent and was THE SH*T when it came to navigating home buying). It is so frustrating to me that she thinks money is the only valid help. At the same time it makes me want to shy away from the “whatever you kids need” offer from my Mr family. I feel sad. We need more help than we thought we would pulling off the $$ end of the wedding but every dollar we accept makes me feel guilty or like I am betraying my mother. I am quite aware that if we had done it ourselves it would have been on our terms and this all could have been avoided. That was our plan….then life happened.

    Anyway, I guess my personal challenge is “blending the families” at the wedding when my mother feels there is a discrepency based entirely on money and exacerbated by 3500miles. I have written her a few letters and we have talked a lot about it but it always seems to fade into insecurity and self-recrimination. I want them ALL to just relax and enjoy a weekend knowing how much their children love them and eachother. I just wish there was a way to get through to my mom and let her know that money is not ALL we needed to make this happen and that she is just as much OUR mother as his mother is.

  • I agree with what someone said above that most days I find this harder than I think any of my family does! My husband and I (10 months married) live in a different country to both families but mine is a weekend’s visit distance away and his is further. So we end up spending more time with his because its not cost or time-effective going all that way for a few days. I think my parents totally get this and come visit us often too but in my head I am the one worrying it’s not quite fair! My biggest worry has been that my sister will now suffer “only child syndrome” because I’ve deserted her (my husband has a big family) and I feel responsible to keep her happy.

    But what I think I am realising is that what is right for us and works for us is not necessarily the “fair” option. By which I mean, I don’t have to give equal hours to each member of our family for everyone to feel content with the situation. I might email my mother in law more frequently but have longer conversations with my mum when we call. My sister understands I have a bigger family now and is content to miss me every other Christmas as long as I set aside quality time with her during the year…

    I am the only one in the family still worrying about this which probably is a good sign to stop :)