Holidays with extended family are always stressful, but one Thanksgiving was more memorable than the rest. My husband and I moved with our growing family to New York. We had everything worked out. We were going to stay with my husband’s parents for a few weeks until our apartment was ready. We arrived, unloaded our belongings into a storage unit, and moved our family of six into my husband’s childhood home.
Then the landlord we’d planned to rent from ended up renting the house to someone else, and we couldn’t find any other place that would take the six of us. Our two week stay with my in-laws turned into a five-plus-week stay, running right into Thanksgiving.
My husband left for work every day; our three older kids went to school. But my young son and I were home with my retired in-laws every day. What was a fun visit for the first five or six days became extremely uncomfortable as we were clearly outstaying our welcome after the first two weeks. As the holidays approached, I was homesick and stressed, desperately searching for somewhere to live (anywhere!) and trying to find any excuse possible to run errands during the day so that my son wouldn’t drive his grandparents crazy.
It was inevitable that everyone’s stress would collide and spill over, and it did. Voices were raised, tears were spilled, and threats to head back across the country were made. It was tense and uncomfortable…and very understandable.
While we’d been contributing to groceries and helping with the cooking and cleanup, our planned stay had more than doubled. We probably hadn’t expressed our appreciation of their continued hospitality as well as we should have. And for two old retired people used to having the house to themselves, having three little kids and a baby under their feet all the time was likely driving them crazy.
When everyone’s emotions had settled, my husband and I apologized for the extra stress, gave his parents money to cover the water bill and power bill for the time we were there, and let them know how much we appreciated being able to stay with them.
I did, however, redouble my efforts to find a place to live, which ended up being a tiny two-bedroom apartment for the six of us that I had to scrub top to bottom before I would let anyone enter. It didn’t matter how cramped it was, though: it was ours.
The holidays are a time for bonding and making good memories, but when shared with extended family, they can also be stressful. Letting go of the past, biting your tongue, using breathing techniques to de-stress, and focusing on the positive can help you survive. If things do get tense, extend an olive branch. Model the behavior you want to see in your kids. When all else fails, just keep smiling and enjoy the pumpkin pie!
Have you ever had a tense holiday with extended family? How did you handle it?