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Ask Team Practical: Unmarried Holidays

My mom and I have always been pretty close, but we had a blow out argument the other week that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Basically, she told me that since I am not married I have no obligation to my boyfriend’s family and should be spending more of my holiday time with her. Now, my boyfriend and I have been together for five years, and I feel my mom gets more than her fair share of our time—at least fifty percent with the other fifty percent divided up between my boyfriend’s family and my father (as my parents are divorced). I feel guilty not spending every holiday with my mom since she doesn’t have a significant other, and I feel that if I’m not there, she’s alone, but that’s not really fair to everyone else in this equation.

I really would appreciate the advice anyone who has gone through this situation has to offer. How do I show my mother that I do care about my own family, but still feel an obligation to my boyfriend’s family? We plan on getting married, but I don’t think my single status in the meantime should demote the value and commitment of our relationship. I’m just so frustrated and really don’t want to hurt feelings!

-Not Married But Still Important!!

Dear NMBSI,

I think you pretty much said it yourself. Marriages aren’t the only valid relationship. As an adult building a community around yourself, you get to choose whose lives you’d like to invest in, who you enjoy being around, and how you spend your time. That’s the same truth whether you’re married, engaged, dating, or if you’re single and enjoying your friendships. Sure, a wedding makes a nice symbolic gesture of growing up and out of your parents’ home, but that same kind of change happens when you grow up whether you’re married or not. Parents eventually need to move over a bit and make room for all of the other awesome folks in your life.

But that’s all stuff you know! I’m just preaching to the choir, I think. The real question isn’t whether you should spend time with folks other than your mom on the holidays, right? It’s how to go about it. I guess, as usual, the first step is a conversation. Talk to your mom, make it clear that you love her, but you can’t always demonstrate that by giving her every second of your holiday time. She’ll probably be hurt or angry or (if she’s like my mom) try a guilt trip. (If she mentions anything about carrying you for nine long months, just run in the other direction.) But the point of this conversation isn’t to make her angry or make you feel guilty; it’s to reach a compromise. Knowing that she can’t possibly have all your time (stand firm on that!) find out what would make her feel she’s getting a good chunk of “us” time.

She very well may continue to argue that you’re not married to this guy, so you don’t owe his family anything. And while it’s true that you’re not married, that’s entirely beside the point. It’s not about who you owe your time, it’s about spending time with the people you care about in this moment. Combating, “You’re not married!” with, “But we will be someday!” isn’t so effective as being frank that even though you’re not married into this family, they’re important to you right now.

The “right now” is sort of key to me. Because the thing is, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future—even if you do get married. Relationships wax and wane, and maybe some years you’re going to want to spend the holidays with just your family, or just his. But the point is, trying to predict the importance of that future now is futile. So you’ve gotta work with what’s in your hand now. If spending time with your partner’s family is important to you right now, then that’s valid. (Do you hear me? It’s valid. Keep repeating that to yourself.)

All that said, your mom counts among those that are important to you right now. You want to be sure that you are including her, though maybe not giving her every second of your time. Being alone around the holidays can be a really terrible, painful thing. Having that chat about how to make your mom feel loved during the holidays can prevent her from feeling left out, while allowing you room to care for all of the other important people in your life.

Of course, the reality is that even with these diplomatic conversations, your mom may never be happy with the idea of sharing you. Transitions like these, they take time. And as much as it might suck, sometimes part of that transition is having the people you love be unhappy with your decisions. So if this year doesn’t work itself out how you’d hoped, don’t beat yourself up over it. You can’t make everyone happy all the time; all you can do is honor what you know is best for you and your family (both new and old) and own your decisions without regret (which I always have to remind myself of this time of year).

*****

Team Practical, how do you balance caring for your important relationships around the holidays?

Photo: Vivian Chen Photography.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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