Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Long Overdue Holiday News- Part Deux Family Feuds

{A note to my readers: I began writing this entry shortly after posting Holiday News Part One, but found the issues it brought up so difficult to deal with that I simply could not finish. Now that I have a little more space from the turmoil that these thoughts brought up I have managed to finish it. Your comments on this subject would be GREATLY appreciated as I already feel anxiety over the Christmas after next when we will again be with J’s parents, but will have a 19-month-old child with us.}

I love being pregnant! I really do. What an adventure this has been already! And how much more of adventure is it sure to become! But to get down to business here is a quick recap of the holiday happenings that were not covered in my last entry and the thorny issues that have arisen…

J & I spent Christmas with the Curtises in his childhood home in New Jersey this year. This is not the first Christmas I’ve spent with them, but it was by far and away the most comfortable. Usually, holidays with them involve an assortment of extended family: aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, etc. While I am not one to pooh-pooh a large family gathering, these sorts of get-togethers do very little to bring me closer to J’s immediate family. His mother is often so harried that she never manages to join the rest of us at the table for the meal. His father’s quiet personality is overshadowed by the more outgoing affects of his brothers. I find myself spending the majority of my time moving along the outskirts of this crowd, occasionally exchanging pleasantries with some aunt whose name I am embarrassed to reveal that I can’t recall, or quite pleasantly passing my time snuggled into the couch cushions in the presence of his grandmother and his great aunt Betty. Yup, just us three old ladies chillin’ on the sofa.

This year was just the four of us—J’s parents, J, and myself—plus my dear friend O, (who found herself without other plans and became a most welcome last minute addition) on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day J’s sister, her husband, and their two young children joined us. How different this was! J’s father was open and funny. His mother seemed unruffled and relaxed. We shared our engagement, and I believe I could see their faces visibly lighten with relief. And there was ample time to discuss our childbirth plans. These were met with mild interest and calm acceptance by J’s father, and something bordering on horror and disbelief by J’s sister and mother. I remained unperturbed; these reactions were not beyond what I had anticipated.

We returned to Philly late on Christmas Day, and all in all I can report that I had a very pleasant time with my new family. But here is where I must broach a topic of some delicacy. As I mentioned before, J’s sister and her two young children had joined us on Christmas Day. I adore J’s sister. She is beautiful and has a charming grace. She is funny and welcoming. Altogether, she has a delightful way of putting people at ease that I admire and of which, as a newcomer to this clan, am deeply appreciative. Her husband is equally likeable and easy, and their two children have sweet temperaments and charming features. I have no problems with any of the personalities present, and indeed feel blessed to be marrying into such a nice family.

However, childcare as practiced in my new family is worlds away from childcare as practiced in my family of origin, and Christmas Day as experienced in my new family is of an entirely different nature than Christmas Day as experienced in my family of origin. It was these comparisons that kept me from completely relaxing and simply enjoying the event. Now that the arrival of children in our own family, the one that J and I are creating, is imminent, I cannot help but wonder how these differences will be resolved. How will I navigate such treacherous waters without insulting or alienating or seeming altogether like a Grinch? Because that is how I fear I will be viewed when I try to introduce the customs I grew up with, and hold quite dear, to my new in-laws.

Already I believe J’s mother sees me as a rather severe sort. Honestly, I think it is not too inaccurate. Although my sense of humor can be described as silly, and I adore laughing and do so much heartier and more frequently than the Curtises, I absolutely believe in a more rigid sort of set of structures under which children should be raised (and indeed we should live our lives as adults) than they do as well. I don’t even know if I am explaining this correctly.

My family is boisterous at times, very affectionate—both verbally and physically—and we tend to be plain spoken and open with one another, regarding everything from our hopes and dreams to our feelings about anything under the sun to our less than polite bodily functions. J’s family is by contrast much more reserved. There is less of an open show of emotion, less touching, less passionate debate, and certainly no talk of how things might be coming along in the bathroom. I don’t have any problem with this; I sometimes really enjoy the sort of reserved civility that characterizes interactions within this family unit. (Although, I must say holidays are especially difficult to spend away from my family of origin because I miss the playfulness and affection of my siblings the most at those times.)

However, on the other hand all the openness and playfulness of my family developed within a rather structured and somewhat restrictive environment. We were all very well behaved children. We were expected to be. We could run and yell and play however we liked outside, but inside we used “inside voices” and kept the roughhousing to a minimum. When it was suppertime we sat at the table until we were excused. Supper was a time of quiet conversation. The TV was not part of our suppertime; in fact television was not a big part of our lives in any respect. The shows we did watch were treats approved by our mother. We did not eat fast food or drink soda. Cooperation, camaraderie, and respect for each other were emphasized, and our Christmas rituals (of opening stockings and gifts one at a time while the rest of the family shared in our joy) reinforced these values.

I fully intend to raise my own children in much the same way I was raised. I hold these traditions, rituals, and values as sacred, growth enhancing, and vital. J is on board. He respects and appreciates the way I was raised, and he sees the value in raising our own children similarly. So, what if my children’s grandparents see no value in restricting children’s exposure to television? What if they see drinking sodas and eating chips as harmless habits to form? What if they see asking children to patiently wait their turn to open their own Christmas present until after a sibling, or parent, or cousin, has fully experienced their own gift as senseless and perhaps even cruel?

I would never, ever dream of restricting my children’s access to their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or any other loving family member. Certainly not over any offense as minor as these that concern me now. If anything could be said to be lacking from my own childhood, it was the presence of a loving extended family. It is a constant source of joy to think that my own children will have so much family to love and to be loved by.

What I fear is how I will even broach these issues with them. How will I, how can I, make my own rules (I mean J’s and my rules) THE rules by which I expect my children to be raised? Can I even do that and still share my beloveds with others? Am I being too much of a control freak? Am I worrying too much before it is time? When does one start to discuss these sorts of things? Should I hope it will just unfold naturally over the coming years? Should J take the lead in expressing to his parents how we will raise our family? What if neither of those things happen (natural unfolding or J’s lead), does that mean I have to just give up and give in? Or will I continue to struggle with this indefinitely? So many questions are raised in the meshing of two families—how does one navigate treacherous waters without sinking the ship?


  1. You've heard it before, and I'm going to say it again - compromise is the key. You and J have every right to raise your children the way you want them to be raised. You should reinforce with your children that your expectations for their behavior stand even when you are not with them. However, going to visit aunts and uncles and grandparents is supposed to be a treat. It is time to let down your guard a little and live by someone else's rules. I mean, seriously, have you visited Mom lately? I've been over there and she has offered my children SODA! We NEVER had soda in the house growing up - what happened!?! And we still don't keep soda in my house, but if Mom offers them soda as a treat at her house, I am fine with it. It is not like they have it every day. And, she has CANDY in her house. If she wants to offer them candy BEFORE dinner, I figure that is her right as a grandmother. It won't hurt them every once in a while.

    I, too, was aghast when I saw that other families don't necessarily celebrate Christmas morning the way we do. Adam and I had a pretty big fight that first Christmas we spent together with his family, and in retrospect, I realize I was being a selfish, spoiled brat. It is natural to think that your way is the best way to do something, but blending families means blending traditions as well. Christmas mornings in the Hutchinson household now resemble a hodgepodge of some things done the way our family has always done them (like one gift at a time), and some things the way Adam's family has always done them (like opening gifts before breakfast). I think it is important to pick out elements of the traditions that are especially important to you and hold on to those while being open to compromising on other parts.

    It is going to take time to get it right, Kerry, and there are inevitably going to be bruised feelings while you work it all out. What is most important is that you and J are on the same page - if your two families see that, then they are more likely to fall in line (or as close as they can) with your expecations. But there are many ways to raise children, and many paths that children can take to become healthy, well-adjusted adults, so let loose the tight reins a bit at times and see where the horse leads you when left to his own devices.

    (and just so you know, when your child is visiting Aunt Erin, we are going to crank the music up LOUD and dance and sing like wild banshees - "inside voices" be damned. Just turn and walk away...)

  2. Oh, and finally, a preggo picture! Look at you! Very cool! I heard Ericka got a photo in the mail. I know I was the one pestering you about a photo, yet she is the one who gets one. I see how it is...

  3. Ahh, beautiful baby girl, do not let such trivial matters unnerve you. As Erin said, compromise is the key. Hold on to that which is most dear and close your eyes to the rest. Blending families and traditions is difficult, but it all has a way of coming together to make something even better. I remember my own Mother's exasperation when she would make a request of me and I would promptly run to my Grandfather and say, "I don't have to do that do I Grampa." To which he usually responded by taking me in his arms and saying. "Of course not, darling." Grandparents have earned the right to sometimes bend the rules for their grandchildren. It's only for a day or two and children recognize that it is special. To Erin: We almost always had candy in the house, it was not at your free choice though. We also used to crank up the music and dance, dance ,dance. Lest you have forgotten.
    Anyway, this was Haleigh's and Eli's first Christmas the way we do it and they fared just fine. Even enjoyed the anticipation and lengthiness of the whole event. You an J will find your own traditions that will also become precious memories.


  4. Oh and the picture is great! You are positively GLOWING! Am excited at the prospect of seeing you soon