Easter & Holiday Family Obligations. Traditions to be Broken? Relationship Advice

Dear Veronica,

Is it right that my husband and I have to go to my husband's parents house for every holiday just because my parents aren't living? My husband and his family seem to think that we have to be at his parents house for every holiday. I wanted to take a 4 day weekend away over Easter since I am off work that Thursday and Friday. My husband has wanted to take a long weekend away. When I first said it by dates he was excited. Then when I said it is Easter weekend he said oh we can't go. I told my MIL I wanted to go away for Easter weekend with my husband since I have some days off work and she said that would be horrible and why would I do that to her. She said how she has to see us on Easter. Why is it just assumed that every holiday we will go there??

Ariana

Dear Ariana,

Ah, the inlaw thing. Yeah, that's a bugger.

Not knowing your ages or how long you've been married is certainly a factor as to why I can't be more specific in my advice. But here's some general concepts to chew on.

Part of the wonderful thing with tradition, is starting your own. Traditions begin someplace. Why not with you? The odds are this tradition of your Mother-In-Law cooking holiday dinner at her house was something she began after she got married. Growing up she had a different tradition, maybe going to her grandparent's home. At some point, she cooked her first Easter dinner. And she may have been around the same age as you are at the time.

The odds are your husband is going along. He knows what he's "supposed" to do, and he's doing it. The odds are he would have much preferred going away for the weekend. But he has this tradition drilled into him, and he wants to avoid any conflict he can.

There are of course lots of things you can do from putting your foot down to going away on your own. However if you want to do this in a more conducive and cooperative way, here's some ideas and tips.

If you can get your mother-in-law onboard with the concept of changing the traditions, most likely everyone else will follow suit. It would appear she's the matriarch of this family. Her statement of how could you do this to her, is very telling.

This Easter, make it all about her. Make it all about finding out everything you can, and using it to set the foundation for change.

Begin with a call to your MIL asking her about the prep and the food that will go into her Easter. Word things that reflect her ownership of them. Tell her you're calling because you want to learn more about her Easter dinner. Ask her about her recipes. Ask her what she cooks ahead of time. If she says she bakes the pies earlier in the week, ask her if you can come over and learn her recipes, or if you can help her, or even just watch. You can remind her that you don't have someone in your family to hand-down traditions so you're counting on her. 

Don't argue, offer suggestions, or make any criticisms. Just let this be all about her. Nod, smile, listen, take notes on recipes, help whenever she lets you. Thank her as you go.

Ask if you can come over early on Easter to help and learn. 

If she asks why the sudden interest, say something acknowledging of her feelings, like that you've just come to realize how important these traditions are and you want to make sure that you participate in them. Slowly, as you bond over the making of this meal, you can start to work in phrasing like that you want to be able to make her ham exactly the way she makes it. And then, that you want to be able to make her ham the way she makes it to carry on her traditions when it's your turn. 

When you have her ear, ask her about Easters when she was growing up. Where did they go, what did they eat. Note the changes as new generations were born. Ask her very specifically about that first Easter dinner she cooked at her house as a young wife. Ask her if she was nervous. Ask her if anything went wrong. Enjoy the stories and listen closely to them. 

Then bring her in on your being the new wife, and your first Easter dinner. If you meet resistance, back up a step. And then try it again. 

Make sure you're very inviting and complimentary. Make sure you're saying things in such a way that the traditions she's set are being carried and honored. Make sure she's included. When she tells you about her first Easter, show excitement. And say you hope your first Easter dinner will go that well, or you hope you don't make a mistake. Ask her to help with that. Saying something like, "Will you please help me when I have my first Easter diner? I want to be like you in that respect, I want to start the tradition to be at my house just like you did. Will you please help me to make the meal a really good one just like yours?"

On Easter, after the meal, when you're all cleaning up or enjoy dessert, that's when you bring your agenda out into the open. Tell everyone what a fantastic time you had this week learning from your MIL, and how grateful you are. Thank her in front of everyone. Share some of her memories with everyone, just little things she shared with you that show you listened and appreciated them. Celebrate her and her traditions with your facial expressions, words and enthusiasm. 

And then drop the bomb. Smile at her, maybe even touch her hand or her shoulder and say to everyone, that you'd like to have Easter at your house next year. Quickly say that you think with the support and help of your MIL that you are ready to try to carry on the traditions. Thank her for all her guidance and tell her you couldn't do it without her. Tell her how happy you are to be a part of the family and the traditions. 

Here's a good anchor. Give her one really solid holiday. Say something like, "I know I'm not ready - and may never be ready - to try Thanksgiving dinner. MIL's recipes are really incredible and there's so much work. Really I can't imagine having Thanksgiving dinner anywhere but right here at this table. But I think I can do Easter!"

There are two things at play here. One is that your husband should see your effort to embrace the traditions of his family and to show his mother such respect. This will go a long way with him, even if things don't immediately pan out.

The other thing is that this puts your mother-in-law on the spot. If she doesn't show support for you to take over a holiday, she's revealing herself to be controlling. And, she's showing herself as a hypocrite since she did the same exact thing when she began all these traditions in her home. 

I know this sounds a little manipulative. But to be honest she was very manipulative to accuse you of doing something to her if you chose to take a vacation while having some time off work. That wasn't fair at all to you. That wasn't thoughtful or sympathetic or respectful. You're just fighting fire with fire here.

Ariana your mother-in-law may be very well intended here. She may truly love her family and enjoy solidifying these traditions. Allowing her to feel appreciated and successful in those traditions is a wonderful gift to her. Thinking you embrace her is much better than thinking you're rejecting her by wanting to go away for a holiday. It is of course sad that she has felt she has to manipulate family into spending holidays with her. It would be so much healthier if her family came to her holiday celebrations because they wanted to instead of because they felt they had to.

At the heart of this really is an MIL that will be very happy with your response to her traditions.

Chipping one holiday away from her may seem like it's not such a big deal but it's the tip of the iceberg. Another new comer to the family may take up spear after you, and claim Christmas Eve, or Father's Day.

Christmas Day tends to change in families once children come into the picture. It's not easy or fair to have the kids open everything Santa brought, and then tell they they have to leave it all behind for the day to go someplace else, like grandma's house. Not all, but most families tend to have a Christmas meal at the house where the kids are. When more than one part of the family has kids, this can be where older tradition really breaks, and new ones are cemented.

It will take a couple of years for you to do this smoothly if you choose this way, but it will be worth it. Have that next Easter at your house, let your MIL help and control as much of it as she wants. It will fade after that first one. Once your mother-in-law has let go of just one holiday even just one time, it will be easier to pry others away. When you tell her, just for this year you're going go away for Christmas on a cruise, it won't be a horrible shock. It still may be met with resistance but it won't be shattering.

If you can settle on two definitives, you'll be able to get away with a lot of variables. By two definitives, I mean one holiday that you promise you'll always attend at her house, and one holiday you're offering to host. That's a far cry from every holiday at her house. Give her Thanksgiving for example, completely her way. As you take hold of Easter you can begin to invite friends or neighbors, add new recipes, and make it your own.

Giving her these two constants every single year will really put you in a favorable place with your husband to make changes to the rest of the holidays. Having a private romantic Christmas Eve, or going away, or eating out will be more possible. You can even begin to gradually introduce just switching up the dates on things. A few years from now you'll be able to ask the family to understand that you have a job with certain days off, and that it's only fair that you be able to take advantage of those limited times off. There's really no reason you can't have the whole family together the weekend before or the weekend after your husband's birthday or a certain holiday. Celebrating and being together shouldn't be nailed to a certain date only. You should be able to skew the dates when you need to, and still embrace the spirit of the event.

I am hoping you'll be spending the rest of your life having holidays with your husband. Depending on your age that could be 30, 40, or even 50+ years. Putting in some groundwork for a couple of those years to make him comfortable may not be the worst thing you'll ever have to do. Good luck with this.


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3 comments

susannah42 profile image

susannah42 5 years ago from Florida

Well done. My daughter is married and has two little girls. We have worked out a plan. We have Easter brunch and easter egg hunt at our house, and then she goes to in laws for dinner. it works.


Veronica profile image

Veronica 5 years ago from NY Author

susannah42,

Perfect! That sounds nice, a great tradition. Easter's coming, enjoy your brunch and egg hunt!


stayingalivemoma profile image

stayingalivemoma 5 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

Great Hub! My fiancée and I always argue about whose family we are spending Christmas with!

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