Surviving the Holidays -- and Your Family of Origin

Surviving the Holidays -- and Your Family of Origin

Taking your new family home for the holidays can feel a little overwhelming.

By: Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I grew up in an Italian-American family that has specific ways of celebrating the holidays, from the food we eat (usually Italian), to the games we play, to how we open presents -- an occasion my father has always filmed (in fact, he films everything). My husband’s family, on the other hand, always celebrated in more traditionally American ways. So let’s just say integrating my husband, and now our two kids, into my family’s way of the celebrating holidays has been quite a challenge.

It’s hard enough to sell my husband on the eight-hour drive south to Maryland with two small children, but then I force him to endure my family’s holiday traditions too -- mainly the two-hour present-opening ceremony, where my dad films us unwrapping each and every gift. With the addition of two more toddlers this year, it’s sure to take even longer. When dinner is served, my husband will roll his eyes and make some snide remark on how we’re -- yet again! -- eating Italian food (because my family doesn’t ever eat anything else. Oh, how I love the way my husband’s family eats out at so many different ethnic restaurants!). Then, last but not least (awful), I’ll sit down for the annual, hours-long, mystery-focused board game with my brother and father while my kids nip at my feet.

Granted, I’m not always a huge fan of Italian food. And maybe playing that board game isn’t the best way to engage on a holiday. But still, my husband’s reticence to embrace my family’s holiday traditions, plus the stress of keeping two kids happy, has put a bit of a damper on my fun, snowy spirit. No longer do I have time to record carols with my dad, let alone eat a leisurely breakfast of coffee and scrambled eggs.

So how can I make it better this year? I reached out to a few experts for advice.

Ruth Nemzoff, a resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and author of Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family, suggests moms like me try to prepare the family in advance for customs that are different from the day-to-day traditions we know.

“It’s important to reframe all activities with a positive view,” says Nemzoff. “Ramp up the curiosity of your kids and your spouse. Tell them, ‘You are going to learn a lot about me and my background, by being great observers and participants in traditions different from what you may be used to. My dad always insists on a holiday walk no matter what the weather and my mom feels that everyone bonds by doing the dishes.’”

More from P&G everyday: 5 Ways to Holiday-Proof Your Relationship


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It’s also a good idea to have some compassion for your spouse, adds Elaine Taylor-Klaus, professional parenting coach. “Acknowledge where everyone is coming from -- if someone thinks your tradition is ‘stupid’ because it’s so different from theirs, that’s a legitimate opinion,” says Taylor-Klaus. “Try to avoid convincing people to believe something different, or to see things your way. They’re entitled to their opinion -- though you can request that they ‘humor you’ anyway because you’re trying to make sure everyone gets what they want for the holidays. Have compassion -- change is hard, hard, hard, and there’s tons of emotional baggage everyone brings to the table. Expect that.”

Like my husband, I’m not a patient person. So instead of fuming over his lack of patience when it comes to spending time with my family, in my family’s way, I could do him a favor and try to be more patient while waiting for him to come around a bit. After all, when he promised “til death do us part,” he didn’t commit to smiling while riding along the New Jersey Turnpike and being filmed opening a coffee mug. This is the season of giving -- so I’ll work on trying to give a little.

How do you survive blending your spouse and kids with your family of origin?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her husband and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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