Some people absolutely love spending time together in a large group, as a family. But not everybody grew up that way, or feels comfortable staying in the midst of a chaotic zoo of a family they recently married into, over the holidays.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, there's an important reality for recently wed couples to except: The first few holiday visits after you get married can be extremely stressful for a newlywed couple.
Newlyweds who haven't spent a lot of time vacationing with both families often find themselves staring down the barrel of an awkward situation during their first married holiday season. You have to figure out a way to split time so both families get time with you on different important holidays, without hurting anybody's feelings. At the same time, you want to have a happy visit together that will set the tone for many, many future holidays and important occasions.
There are five things you can plan ahead for that will make your holiday stay (or visit) with your in-laws much more successful:
1. Have Your Own Space
If the new in-laws don't live nearby, and you're expected to spend several days with your new spouse's family over Thanksgiving or Christmas, get a hotel room nearby. Feelings might be a little bit hurt initially, but have your new husband or wife explain to their parents that you don't feel that comfy sharing a bed in their parents' house yet (even if that's not the problem). Say that you're still experiencing your honeymoon, and need more privacy. It might make you blush at first, but at least it's a fun and silly cop out.
2. Establish Your Own Traditions
While it might seem simpler to suck it up and fake your way through the holidays at your in-laws' house, it's important to establish the way you do things right off the bat. If you play along the first married holiday, they'll expect you to hold the line on future occasions. For example, his family might have a Christmas Eve party that rages late into the night — there's nothing wrong with you and your mate slipping out to attend midnight Mass, if that's a tradition that's important to you, and something you'll want to do as a family in the future. Do you prefer to exchange big gifts with your partner in private? Don't let anybody force you to do the big reveal in front of any audience — give gifts to each other BEFORE you head over for the festivities. Once you have your own children, you'll be creating plenty of new holiday traditions, so don't get sucked into any you don't like at your in-laws' house. Be respectful, but don't cave.
3. Make It a Short Trip
Just because your husband's family usually spends the whole week between Christmas and New Year's together doesn't mean you have to stay that long. Unless you enjoy spending time with them, two or three nights should be sufficient to visit with the relatives you rarely see, and catch up with everybody else who is there. You can always use your own family, or work commitments, to limit your stay. If your new spouse truly wants to have a lengthy visit, and you cringe at the thought, you don't have to stay the entire week. Go celebrate the holiday with them, and then take your leave. Your spouse can always stay longer. If you have fun this year, you can plan to stay longer next time.
See More: The Ultimate In-Law Gift Guide
4. Arrive Prepared
Find out whether your in-laws dress fancy or casual for their holiday activities. You do not want to stick out as the one who didn't get the memo in their family photos. While there's no rule that says you have to change your own personal style to "fit in," you won't want to be wearing a dress and heels (or a coat and tie) on Thanksgiving if everybody else in the crew traditionally shows up sporting college sweatshirts to support their favorite football teams. Make your wardrobe plan in advance so you don't get all stressed out trying to figure out what to wear once you've arrived. If your new spouse is no help, an email asking for guidance to his mom, or your new sister-in-law, should make life a lot easier.
5. How to Arrive and Leave
Be sure to bring a lovely hostess gift for your new in-laws, and give it to them as soon as you've arrived. It doesn't have to be something fancy or expensive — if you bake or craft, homemade is frequently more appreciated by your new extended family. If you're staying with your in-laws during the visit, be sure to strip and remake your bed before you leave. Offer to put fresh sheets on it, and if your mother-in-law tells you not to worry, make up the bed without the sheets so it looks good from the doorway. Take all your used bath towels to the laundry room, and empty wastebaskets in the bedroom and bathroom before you go. You're not a houseguest — you're part of the family now. Make the best impression by not leaving any more work for the hosts than is absolutely necessary. And make sure you handwrite and mail a thank-you note as soon as you get back home.