My in-laws suck.
Kidding. They don’t. They’re actually really great… I think it’s God’s way of saying, your birth family is a nightmare, let me take it easy on you with this one. Just some nice Christian folk, that are family focused, with good morals and no drug addictions or notable mental illness to speak of.
With that being said, we love what we know. And I know dysfunction. So while the family I married in to is great, and they definitely have their own quirks (because everyone registers somewhere on the crazy spectrum)… I probably would feel more comfortable if they were less normal. They’re a respectable bunch; gatherings are mostly dry, so you can’t lubricate conversation with liquid. Meaning you have to engage with people.
Family is a complicated concept for me; I grew up with one, because obviously I fell out of someone’s uterus, but for a lot of my life I felt alone. When I got married I was looking forward to creating my own familial unit, and admittedly, I was a little naïve. I thought that I would have a husband (and however many subsequent children) and that we would be our own little troop, in an insular world. I assumed we would create our own traditions, do things on our own time, and have zero obligatory ties to anyone else. In other words, I was delusional.
How many of you pictured your future self at someone else’s family gatherings? YOU DON’T; Fantasy has us believing that we craft these new lives around our desires. You grow up picturing your picket fence, your golden retriever, and your nuclear family gathered around a 17ft Christmas tree in your amazing foyer. You don’t realize that everyone comes from somewhere, and you usually have to integrate their dreams and family into the vision that you had.
In other words, life shits on your plans: I married someone who has 4 siblings and parents who care about him coming home for the holidays. A tragedy if you ask me. In order to survive a marriage, you learn pretty quickly that you’re not the captain of the ship… you share that position. Which is good, because I’d drive this boat straight towards crippling debt. I actually have it easy though, because while I got something I didn’t necessarily sign up for… my husband got quite possibly the most challenging set of in-laws there is. Joke’s on him. I don’t feel that bad though, because they might be his in-laws, but they’re my parents.
So what do you do? How do we make a family we didn’t grow up with our own? A family that might have different values and beliefs systems. And what about for the holidays? Which are so closely tied to personal traditions.
I have a few holiday specific tips to getting through a family gathering; allow me to save you from awkward:
My family doesn’t have very many traditions, it’s like we’re saying, “There’s nothing good here worth passing on.” But there is one thing we’ve been doing for as long as I can remember and that is… THE WHITE ELEPHANT GAME. Not sure what that is? Or maybe you do some super lame version of it. If you do this game right, it will be the highlight of your gathering and something you’ll look forward to each year. Click the link and read the general rules. It’s not too late to organize this game for your family! It took me 7 years, but I finally did this with my in-law’s and they all had a blasty blast.
-My family sticks to a $20 price point ($15-$30 is a good range)
-Put effort into your gift, the more desirable your gift is the more fun it will generate.
-Steal. You must steal someone’s gift. It doesn’t matter if it’s a child’s, the White Elephant is cut throat and little homie has to learn.
-You can always do the White Elephant in addition to your normal gift giving routine, but consider replacing it this year completely. Instead of spending a bunch of money on gifts for everyone, buy one grab bag gift and enjoy interacting with one another.
2) PUT YOUR MOTHER EFFING PHONE DOWN. It’s tempting to pick up your phone and retreat from family, but let’s all interact with humans this year, not just sit in a room staring at screens next to them.
I’m not suggesting you make thinking about death a regular habit, but introducing yourself to mortality is important. Impermanence keeps me present. I’m trying to scare you right now… look around that room and imagine a horrible tragedy. Yah, you would really regret it if you spent your last Christmas with uncle Tommy reloading your GD Facebook.
3) Bring a dish. What are you trash? Were you raised by wolves?
Most family’s holiday menus vary to some degree and are laced with the nuances of heritage and tradition. Food is life people: it brings us together, it is edible culture. I am psychotic about food. Instead of being upset that my in-laws don’t eat the same way I do, or celebrate with the same food that my family does, I try to always bring a dish. This is a great way to introduce everyone else to what you enjoy and to let them know that you’re a classy broad and are deserving of their child’s love.
Food can be a point of contention – it is highly personal. Don’t expect someone else to provide food that fits your dietary needs and restrictions. Especially during the holiday’s when they’re likely cooking for a large number of people. And don’t be a jerk and only bring enough for yourself. It’s the season of giving ya’ll. Pass the vegan meatloaf.
4) CATCH PHRASE. You’re welcome. Click the link and buy it. Best investment you’ll ever make. Catch Phrase saved my marriage; surely it can do your family gathering some good. Get the electronic version and never look back.
That’s it! Implement one or all of those suggestions and I assure you, you will walk away from what could have been a potential train wreck, looking forward to the next time you are all forced to be together.
Do you have a family tradition that we should add to the list? What makes your family gatherings special (tolerable)? Spilled Milk wants to know. Leave it in the comments!
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