Although it has been many years ago, Deanna Brann, clinical psychologist and author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law, has no problem recalling "The Thanksgiving from Hell."
It was the first Thanksgiving she and her husband spent with her son, new daughter-in-law and granddaughters. Although looking forward to seeing them, Deanna was quite uneasy. Her daughter-in-law was apprehensive, too. The stress and tension on both sides caused a huge explosion. That's why that particular holiday is remembered as hellish by both women.
There have probably already been a few interesting discussions about this year’s holiday gatherings with the in-laws. While a first holiday together can be awkward for everyone, you may also be dealing with the stress from annual pressure from both sides of the family. Maybe each side wants you to be there because, “It just won’t be the same if you aren’t here.” Yet trying to please everyone can make the whole season miserable.
If you are the in-laws, remember what holidays were like when you were newlyweds or raising children. What would happen if you backed off on the pressure to be at your home on a certain day? Everybody might enjoy celebrating the holidays more when there's a little flexibility.
For couples trying to navigate the holidays with in-laws, Brann offers tips to help you create great memories instead of misery.
Have realistic expectations. Hope for the best, but be realistic. Families are families - and they are going to act how they act.
Don’t take it personally. Stressful times and tension can cause behavior to be exaggerated. Remember that your in-laws’ indiscretions are more about them than they are about you. And your mother-in-law is probably not trying to get on your nerves. Keeping this in mind can help maintain the peace.
Be a team player. Remember you really aren’t on opposing teams. Different opinions about certain aspects of the holiday are okay. Find ways to share the workload. Plan fun outings that can help keep people out of trouble.
Hunt for humor. Finding humor in situations can help maintain your sanity by helping you create enough emotional distance so you won't take people’s words and actions so personally. Plus, you'll have some great stories to tell your friends.
It's just one day. You can make it through one day of just about anything. Knowing that there is an end to the evening - and that soon you'll be seeing their taillights (buckling your seat belt) - can make all the difference. If you or your guests are staying overnight, you can close the guestroom door soon enough.
Plan your exit strategy in advance. Visiting couples should agree beforehand how long to stay - and then leave at the predetermined time. If you're traveling, getting a hotel room or staying elsewhere can lessen the stress.
Don’t let others steal your joy. A little advance planning, along with a good attitude, can make for a pleasant holiday season.